VISA WAIVERS AND ESTATravel to the U.S. for Up to 90 Days Without a Visa.
The Visa Waiver Program allows eligible foreign nationals from designated countries to travel to the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without the need to obtain a non-immigrant visa. These travelers must meet certain requirements to be eligible for the program.
First and foremost, the traveler must be a citizen of one of the following countries:
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- Czech Republic
- Republic of Korea
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- The Netherlands
- United Kingdom
In order to be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, citizens and nationals of the above listed countries must also:
- Have complied with conditions of previous admissions to the U.S.
- Travel with an approved air or sea carrier if traveling by air or sea.
- Have a machine readable passport with specified security features.
- Show that they have sufficient funds to pay for all expenses while in the U.S.
- Not have had any previous visa denials, or been found ineligible for a U.S. visa.
- Be approved to travel through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
- Be able to prove that their stay in the U.S. will be 90 days or less, with return tickets showing that they are exiting the U.S. within the 90 days.
Assuming you are a citizen of one of these approved countries, the first step of the Visa Waiver Program is to obtain advance authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to your departure. ESTA is an automated web-based system which determines eligibility of individuals to travel without a visa to the United States for business or tourism. Note that obtaining authorization through ESTA does not make an individual admissible to the United States; it only determines if they are eligible to travel here without a visa. The final decision of admissibility to the U.S. is determined by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the traveler’s U.S. port of entry, such as airports. If you wish to apply for this authorization, you must first apply on their website, https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/, and pay the applicable ESTA fee.
There are some instances when travelers who are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program should still apply for a U.S. visa instead of using the Visa Waiver Program. The following individuals may fall under this category:
- Travelers who intend to immigrate to the U.S.
- Travelers who want to work or study in the U.S.
- Travelers who have criminal records or other conditions making them ineligible for a visa.
- Travelers who come to the U.S. for any purpose which is not allowed on a visitor visa.
- Travelers who intend to travel by private aircraft or other non-Visa Waiver Program approved air or sea carriers.
- Travelers who have been refused admission to the United States before, and those who did not comply with the conditions of their previous U.S. admissions.
- Travelers who want to remain in the United States for longer than 90 days, or may wish to change their status once in the United States, since those who enter on the Visa Waiver Program are not allowed to change their status in the U.S.
Tips for Applying
While the Visa Waiver Program makes it very convenient to enter the country as a visitor for up to 90 days, the immigration authorities are very strict in ensuring the person will not be working in the U.S.
If you decide to change your status in the U.S. later on, or if you plan on staying here for longer than 90 days, it’s best to explore other visa options. Contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our expert immigration attorneys – we can help assess your goals in visiting the U.S. and determine the best legal strategy to prevent any immigration issues during your brief stay in the country.