Visa Waiver Program

Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program of the United States of America which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. All countries participating in the program have high HDI and most are regarded as developed countries.


The visa waiver program was introduced in 1986 with the aim of facilitating tourism and short term business visits to the United States, and allowing the Department of State to focus consular resources on addressing higher risks to the U.S.

In November 2006 it was announced that plans for an Electronic Travel Authorization would be developed so that VWP travellers can give advance information on their travels to the United States. In return, they will be given authorization electronically to travel to the United States. This program will be modelled on the Electronic Travel Authority scheme that has been used in Australia for many years. [ [ Security Improvements to Visa Waiver Program] ]

Eligible countries

To be eligible for a visa waiver under the VWP, the traveller seeking admission to the U.S. must be a citizen of a country that has been designated by the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of State, as a "program country". Permanent residents of designated countries do not qualify unless they hold a citizenship of another designated country. The criteria for designation as program countries are specified in Section 217 (c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Title 8 U.S.C. §1187). [ [ Cornell University U.S. Code collection] - § 1187. Visa waiver program for certain visitors] [ [ Travel.State.Gov] - Visa Waiver Program - How a Country Qualifies] The criteria stress passport security and a very low nonimmigrant visa refusal rate: not more than 3% as specified in Section 217 (c)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as ongoing compliance with the immigration law of the United States.

As of 2006, 27 countries were designated as VWP participants:

* Europe (22)
Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France (including French overseas territories), Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom [ A passport indicating that the bearer is a British Subject, British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Overseas Citizen, British National (Overseas) Citizen, or British Protected Person does not qualify for travel without a visa, even the passport states holder has Right of Abode or indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. [ Details about the Visa Waiver Program] ]

* Asia (3)
Brunei, Japan, Singapore

* Oceania (2)
Australia, New Zealand

Eligibility for the visa waiver scheme may be withdrawn at any time. Usually this may happen if the United States feels that citizens of a certain country are more likely to violate their VWP restrictions (such as working without a permit or overstaying their allowed period of stay in the U.S.). Accordingly, Argentina's participation in the VWP was terminated in 2002 in light of the financial crisis taking place in that country and its potential effect on unlawful emigration of its citizens to the U.S. by way of the VWP. Uruguay's participation in the program was revoked in 2003 for similar reasons.

Greece is the only country of the original 15 nations of the European Union prior to the May 1,2004 enlargement whose citizens require a visa to enter the United States. Slovenia is the only nation of the ten newly admitted nations that is already a member of the VWP.

2008 DHS Revisions

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in June 2008 that they have signed memoranda of understanding with eight countries, with the outcome that these countries are to participate in the VWP sometime in 2008. These countries include: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta and South Korea [ [,english/ FTN - NBTA Comments on Visa Waiver Electronic Authorization ] ] . On June 17, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also signed a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) interim declaration with Bulgaria [ [ DHS: DHS Signs Visa Waiver Program Interim Declaration with Bulgaria ] ] .

Guam-only Visa Waiver Program

In the U.S. territory of Guam, located in the western Pacific Ocean, the U.S. federal government has implemented a Guam-specific Visa Waiver Program. As an insular area of the United States, entry requirements for Guam are the same as any other U.S. destination. However, under this program, enacted in October 1988, nationals from several additional countries in Asia and the Pacific islands are permitted to enter Guam as tourists without a visa for up to 15 days. Travel is not permitted onwards to the mainland United States. [ [] - Entry and Exit Formalities]

In addition to citizens from the 27 participant nations in the federal VWP, citizens of the following countries may enter Guam visa-free under the Guam-only waiver program:

*Papua New Guinea
*South Korea
*Solomon Islands
*Republic of China (possessing a Republic of China National Identification Card and only on direct flights to Guam from Taiwan) [ [ Traveling to Guam] ]
*Holders of British National (Overseas) passports

Enlargement of the group of eligible countries

After the expansion of the European Union in 2004, both the newly admitted countries and EU agencies began intensive lobbying efforts to include those new countries in the VWP. The U.S. government initially responded to those efforts by developing bilateral strategies with 19 candidate countries known as the Visa Waiver Roadmap process [ [,0314-crs1.pdf CRS Report for Congress] ] [Argentina, Brazil, Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Uruguay, and The rest of the EU members (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic [] , Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia).] . The U.S. government began to accept the possibility of departing from the original country designation criteria - which had been contained within immigration law "per se" - and to expand them by adding political criteria, with the latter being able to override the former. This development began first with Bill S.2844 [ [ Calendar No. 715 108th CONGRESS 2d Session S. 2844] ] , which explicitly named Poland as the only country to be added to the VWP, and continued as an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S.2611), whose Sec. 413, Visa Waiver Program Expansion [ [ Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 S.2611] ] , defined broader criteria that would apply to any EU country that provided "material support" to the multinational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the definition of that "material support" would be met again only by Poland and Romania, a fact that was not favorably received by the other EU candidate countries.

During his visit to Estonia in November 2006, President Bush announced his intention "to work with our Congress and our international partners to modify our visa waiver program". Recently (July 2007) the Congress and the senate passed the Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act, directing the secretary of Homeland Security to establish a pilot program to expand the visa waiver program for up to five new countries that are cooperating with the US on security and counterterrorism mattersFact|date=August 2007. This new act changes the nonimmigrant visa refusal rate threshold - from 3% - to 10%, thus making (as of 2008) 30 countries [ [ Adjusted Refusal Rate B-Visa only, by nationality, fiscal year 2007] ] qualify for inclusion in the visa-waiver program: Argentina, Bahamas, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hong Kong (HKSAR passport and British National (Overseas) passport), Israel, Kuwait, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Namibia, Nauru, Oman, Qatar, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Timor Leste, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and Vatican City. Note that Cyprus, Greece, Malta, (East) Timor, and Vatican City, [ had already (in 2006)] refusal rates less than the original 3%, but were not included in the VWP countries (whereas a year later, some additional countries had this original low level: Bahrain, Hong Kong (BN(O) passport only but not HKSAR passport), Israel, Kuwait, Nauru, and Qatar). However, for continued participation, DHS re-evaluates participating countries every two years, as required by Congress. Through this process, two countries, Argentina and Uruguay, now are no longer eligible to participate. Current members will have to fulfill any new requirements to continue their eligibility for membership in the program. The European Union is currently planning to negotiate for participation of all of its members in the Visa Waiver Program. [ [ EU seeks U.S. visa waiver for all EU citizens - People's Daily Online ] ]

While all participating nations must provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens (usually ninety days for tourism or business purposes), Australia is the only nation that requires U.S. citizens (and other VWP nations) to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which in fact is a visa that is stored electronically in a computer system operated by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). A passport holder must apply for and purchase an ETA through an authorized travel agency, airline, or via the official DIMA website [ [ Australian Electronic Travel Authority website] ] before departing for Australia. However, as the ETA process is relatively free of formality, the United States recognizes it as the equivalent of visa-free travel.

The only European microstate that is not a member of the program is the Vatican City. Its candidacy in the program is still a mystery, with no knowledge whether it will or will not seek membership in the program.

South Korean citizens will be able to visit United States visa-free for 3 months in the beginning of December 2008. []

Requirements for the visa waiver program

The requirements for the visa waiver program are as follows:

Machine readable and biometric passports

All travellers must have individual passports. It is not acceptable (for the visa waiver scheme) for children to be included on a parent's passport.

Passport requirements depend on the date the passport was issued or renewed:
*Passports issued or renewed before 26 October 2005 must be machine readable.
*Passports issued or renewed after 26 October 2005 must be machine readable and contain a digitized photograph, or must be biometric passports.
*Passports issued or renewed after 26 October 2006 must be biometric.

Passport validity

The standard requirement for passport validity is 6 months beyond the expected date of departure from the U.S., however some country-specific arrangements are different. [ [] U.S. State Department]

Return or onward ticket

If entering the U.S. by air or sea, additional requirements apply. The traveller must:

*Be travelling on a participating commercial carrier and;
*Be holding a valid return or onward ticket. Where the ticket terminates in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or an island in the Caribbean, the traveller must be a legal resident of that country or territory.

Other eligibility requirements

Applicants for admission under the visa waiver program:

*Must have complied with the conditions of all previous admissions to the U.S.;
*Must never have been arrested or convicted for an offence or crime involving moral turpitude or crimes with a maximum aggregate sentence of 5 years' imprisonment or more, no matter how long ago. National regulations which normally expunge criminal records after a certain length of time (e.g. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in the UK) do not apply.
*Must not be ineligible for a visa;
*Must not have been previously denied entry to the U.S. in the past five years [ [ United States Diplomatic Mission to Germany] - Visa Waiver Program] ;
*Must not be intending to visit the U.S. for a purpose other than tourism or a short term business visit. In particular, journalists cannot use the visa waiver scheme to operate in the U.S. and must instead apply for an "I visa".
*If entering over the land frontier, must pay a fee of $6. For those arriving by air or sea, the cost of the visa waiver is included in the airline ticket.

Those who do not meet the requirements for the visa-waiver scheme must obtain a U.S. tourist visa from an American Embassy or Consulate.

Must have an insurance for the period of their stay. Having expired the 90-days admission period applicants should wait another 90 days before enter the US.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization

As of January 2009, all incoming passengers who intend to take advantage of the Visa Waiver will be required to register themselves online before departure to the United States, but preferably at least 72 hours (3 days) in advance. The new requirement was announced on June 3, 2008 and is intended to bolster US security. [ [ US to demand 72hrs notice for British tourists - Telegraph ] ] The online registrations, which will be valid for a two-year period, [ [ NZers visiting US will have to register online - 03 Jun 2008 - NZ Herald: New Zealand National news ] ] will be named the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and are similar to Australia's Electronic Travel Authority.

An approved ESTA travel authorization is:

•valid for up to two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first; •valid for multiple entries into the U.S.; and •not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the U.S. under the VWP. In all cases, CBP officers make admissibility determinations at US ports of entry. (For additional information, please visit “Know Before You Go” at

Once ESTA is mandatory, all travelers from VWP countries will be required to obtain an ESTA approval prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States under the VWP. [ [ DHS: Fact Sheet: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) ] ]

Visa waiver program restrictions

A person entering the United States under the VWP cannot request an extension of the original allowed period of stay in the U.S. (this practice is allowed to those holding regular visas). Additionally, a person who entered the U.S. under the VWP may not request a change of immigration status while in the U.S. (e.g. one is unable to change status from say a tourist to a student). Moreover, if one seeks to enter the U.S and is denied at a port of entry, no path of appealing the denial of entry is allowed.

Travellers can leave to contiguous countries (Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean), but will not be granted another 90 days after reentry in the US. [ [ The American Embassy in The Hague] - Visa Waiver Program]

There are restrictions on the type of employment allowed. Meetings and conferences are acceptable, but "gainful employment" is not.

Citizens of Canada, Bermuda and Mexico

Canadian citizens and British Overseas Territories citizens from Bermuda are also admitted to the United States without requiring tourist visas, but under different legislation from the Visa Waiver program [ [ U.S. State Department: Who from Canada, Mexico and Bermuda, Needs a Non-immigrant Visa to Enter the United States Temporarily?] ] . Mexicans holding a 10-year Border Crossing Card also do not require a visa to enter the United States.

Before 23 January 2007, citizens of Canada, Bermuda, and Mexico (provided they held valid photo identification) were able to enter the United States with only a birth certificate as proof of citizenship and were not required to show a passport. However, since 23 January 2007, they are now required to have passports when entering the U.S. by air only (U.S. citizens also require passports to re-enter the U.S. by air). Citizens of Canada will still be able for some time to use their birth certificates when traveling to the U.S. by land or sea. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has set a tentative date of January 2008 for this requirement.

Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau

Under the Compact of Free Association, citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia [ [ U.S. Embassy in Kolonia, Micronesia] ] , the Republic of the Marshall Islands [ [ Republic of the Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington] ] , and the Republic of Palau [ [ Embassy of the Republic of Palau in Washington] ] (except for adopted children), may enter, reside, study, and work in the United States without visas. These three nations hold the distinction of being the only countries in the world whose citizens do not require visas or other required documents (except a valid passport) for permanent residence, employment, educational pursuits, or for general visits in/to the United States.


ee also

* List of countries by Human Development Index
* List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita
* United States visas
* European Union visa lists
* Electronic Travel Authority (ETA)

External links

* [ Visa Waiver Wizard, US Embassy, London]
* [ Expand Visa Waiver Program to Qualified Countries]
* [ Visa Waiver Program, Department of State, the United States]
* [ President Clinton Signs the Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act]
* [ Calculation of the Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate for Tourist and Business travelers under the Guidelines of the Visa Waiver Program in 2006 and 07 of all countries]
* [ The Relationship between Bilateral Trade and Temporary Immigration Policy: Panel Evidence from the U.S. Visa Waiver Program]
* [ A Sound Visa Policy: The Heritage Foundation's Research]
* [ Visa Regime For The Citizens of the Czech Republic Might End. Numbers Say So]
* [ Visa Reciprocity and Country Documents Finder of the United States]

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