US Visa Waiver Program

Those who have researched the process of applying for a permanent or temporary non-immigrant visa know how challenging it can be. Luckily for some foreign nationals, the US visa waiver program eliminates some of the red tape for those interested in traveling to the Unites States for a short time.

This page was designed to offer some general information to foreign citizens who are interested in applying for a visa waiver as well as those who might be unsure about whether they should consult an immigration attorney. Continue reading to learn more about the following topics:

  • What is the visa waiver program?
  • List of visa waiver program countries
  • Applying for a visa waiver
  • Should I consult an attorney?

It’s important to keep in mind that nothing contained on this page is intended as a substitute for speaking directly with an attorney. Federal immigration law is complex and filing errors can be expensive and time consuming. If you have questions about applying for the program, contact our immigration lawyer for more information.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The US visa waiver program is administered by US Customs and Border Protection, and allows citizens of 38 specific countries to temporarily come to the U.S. as tourists or on business for up to 90 days. The program is based on legislation initiated in 1986.

The program has an element of reciprocity with the 38 foreign countries allowing U.S. citizens similar freedom when traveling for business or pleasure. Travelers under this program are not eligible to extend their status or adjust status unless based on a petition sponsored by an immediate relative.

Applicants who are granted a visa waiver for the purposes of tourism are granted WT status. Meanwhile, business travelers are granted WB status. See the next section for a list of visa waiver program countries.

List of Visa Waiver Program Countries

Citizens from the following countries are eligible to apply for a visa waiver from U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

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

Unfortunately, citizens who are members of visa waiver program countries, but who have traveled to the following countries on or after March 1, 2011, are no longer eligible to travel under the visa waiver program: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Continue reading to learn more about the application process for the visa waiver program.

Applying for a Visa Waiver

In order to apply under program, citizens from eligible visa waiver program countries (listed above) obtain permission through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ETSA). Citizens who hail from visa waiver eligible countries are encouraged to apply through ETSA at least 72 hours before boarding a plane or vessel to the U.S.

The eligible citizen must be in possession of a valid passport from a visa waiver country, and intend to come to the US for either business or pleasure. The current fee to file this application is $14.

Starting in April of 2016, foreign citizens who apply for the visa waiver program are required to be in possession of an e-Passport. This is a passport enhanced with an embedded electronic chip similar to those found in bank and credit cards. The chip stores data on the passport holder such as name, date of birth as well as a biometric identifier. This chip has been designed to prevent unauthorized reading or skimming of data stored on the device.

The person arriving in the U.S. under the visa waiver program, whether by air or sea, must be in possession of an electronic passport, as well as a round trip travel ticket.

Applicants who come to the U.S. by land under the visa waiver program must be able to provide documentation of financial solvency and residence abroad as evidence that they plan to return to their country of origin.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Those who are attempting to temporarily come to the U.S under the visa waiver program are not required to obtain the services of an immigration attorney. However, a lawyer will help a foreign citizen understand his or her eligibility and obligations under the visa waiver program as well as other visa programs.

It’s important to remember that a person applying for any type of extended travel to the U.S. will be scrutinized by federal agents and subject to extensive background checks. In addition, there will be multiple points of contact with federal bureaucrats, and simple filing errors can lead to potential delays. It’s always a good idea to discuss the immigration process with an attorney in order to avoid filing errors and other complications. If you still have questions about the visa waiver program, contact our office to see how we can help.