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What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The vast majority of foreign nationals who enter the United States each year do so as nonimmigrants in the B (visitors) category. Many such visitors may also qualify to enter pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), meaning they do not need to apply for a visitor’s visa stamp in their passport prior to travel to the U.S.

Below is further information about the Visa Waiver Program:

Visa Waiver Program: Details and information

Although subject to the same restrictions on activities in the U.S. as foreign nationals admitted under a B visa, VWP visitors do not actually have to apply for or receive a visa prior to coming to the U.S. (a visa is a stamp placed in a foreign national’s passport by a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S.). Instead, the foreign national completes and signs a form prior to boarding an airplane to the U.S.

Any person entering the U.S. under the VWP must also obtain (in advance of travel) an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). It was developed by the U.S. government to prescreen travelers before they are allowed to board an airplane or ship bound for the U.S.

In addition, a visa waiver visitor must meet the following requirements:

  1. Hold a machine-readable passport.
  2. Possess a round-trip ticket prior to boarding issued by a carrier with which the U.S. has a special agreement.
  3. Must be of qualifying nationality.
  4. May not be admitted to or stay in the U.S. for longer than 90 days.

All Visa Waiver Program emergency or temporary passports must be electronic passports (e-Passports) to be eligible for travel to the United States under the VWP. This includes VWP applicants who present emergency or temporary passports to transit the United States.

Countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Program and length of stay

Citizens or nationals from the below countries can usually qualify to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (as of this publication date):

  • Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom

Generally, the visitor’s intended duration of stay in the United States is brief (in the case of those coming in under the VWP no longer than 90 days), and may involve only permissible activities such as touring, visiting family members, obtaining health care, attending meetings or seminars or conducting business (without productive activity) on behalf of an overseas employer.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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