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Changes to the Visa Waiver Program

On December 18, 2015, Congress passed a new law containing a provision which impacts travel pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Effective immediately, individuals who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan (or other countries designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as supporting terrorism or “of concern”) at any time on or after March 1, 2011, are not eligible to participate in the VWP. Exceptions include those performing military service in the armed forces of a VWP country and those carrying out official duties full-time as an employee of a VWP country government. DHS also maintains the right to waive exclusions in U.S. national security interests. The new law further excludes nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan from participation in the VWP. Those subject to the new law must first apply for and obtain a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad before presenting themselves for admission at a U.S. port-of-entry.

About the Visa Waiver Program

Visitors holding passports from the following countries may qualify under the visa waiver program: Andorra; Australia; Austria; Belgium; Brunei; Chile; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Monaco; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Portugal; San Marino; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; South Korea; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Taiwan; and the United Kingdom.

Although subject to all restrictions on activities in the U.S. as foreign nationals admitted under a B-1/B-2 visitor visa, VWP visitors do not actually have to obtain 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. Consul at a consulate outside the U.S.)

Instead, any person entering the U.S. under VWP must obtain (in advance of travel) an approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). This online application system is located at 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; and;
4. May not be admitted to or stay in the U.S. for longer than ninety (90) days.

Please visit for additional information regarding the Visa Waiver Program.

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