What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program lets residents from participating countries enter the United States for business or vacation without having to apply for a visa.

Are you planning to travel to the United States for a short period of time? If you answered “yes,” you may qualify for the visa waiver program.

Many people who want to temporarily visit the United States apply for a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa, but these visa preferences aren’t your only options.

If you live in one of the many countries that qualify for the visa waiver program you may be able to participate in an expedited process which can make the whole process significantly quicker and easier.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

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The visa waiver program is essentially a fast-pass for immigration. It allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for a period of no more than 90 days without a visa.

Just like the B-1 and B-2 visas, the two main types of visits that will qualify for the visa waiver program are business and vacation.

Waiver Program for Business

One reason you may be interested in the visa waiver program is to travel to the U.S. for business.

Meeting with business associates, negotiating contracts, and attending professional conferences are some examples of the business activities you can participate in during your trip to the U.S.

Waiver Program for Vacation

The other main reason people apply for the visa waiver program is for vacation or tourist activities.

Things like general vacation and tourism, medical treatment, and participation in social events like weddings are some examples of vacation activities you can do during your visit to the U.S.

Limitations of the Visa Waiver Program

Under the visa waiver program, there are certain things you simply cannot do. You cannot study for credit, gain employment, work as foreign press, or have permanent residence in the United States.

As noted above, this program lets people come to the United States for short work-related activities and vacation. If you’re coming to the country for another reason, such as to take a college course or find work, you need to file for a different visa.

Another drawback of the visa waiver program is that, in most cases, you cannot extend your stay beyond the initial admission period. Remember, your stay under the visa waiver program can be up to 90 days.

Staying longer could result in deportation and a bar from entering the country in the future.

What Countries Qualify for the Visa Waiver Program?

Citizens of the following countries are eligible for the visa waiver program:

List of Visa Waiver Program Designated Countries
Screenshot taken from: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visa-waiver-program.html

*If you are a British citizen, you specifically need to have the “unrestricted right of permanent abode” in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man in order to qualify.

What Do I Need to Apply for the Visa Waiver?

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In order to travel under the visa waiver program, there are a few things you will need to gather.

The Right Passport

The first thing you will need is a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after your departure date from the U.S., though certain countries are exempt through specific agreements.

Your passport must also be an e-passport. E-passports contain an embedded electronic chip that will help match your identity to the passport.

If you plan to travel with family members, each person traveling (including children) will need their own valid passport.

Valid ESTA

You will also need is valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before you can board a plane or other form of transportation heading for the United States.

The ESTA is an online system run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It uses this system to figure out if you are eligible to travel under the visa waiver program.

Conclusion

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The visa waiver program allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the U.S. for a period of up to 90 days without having to apply for a visa. All you need to do to qualify is live in one of several pre-approved countries and obtain a valid ESTA and the right passport.

If you have any question about how to apply, who qualifies, or what you can do during your stay in the U.S., don’t hesitate to contact an attorney for assistance.

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