What is the Visa Waiver Program?
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What is the Visa Waiver Program?

Under the US Visa Waiver Program, citizens or nationals of member countries who meet specific requirements can travel to the USA without an American visa and stay for up to 90 days. Administered by the Department of Homeland Security, the US Visa Waiver applies to citizens of 38 member countries who are visiting the United States for business or tourism purposes.

Enabling visitors to enter the US without obtaining a USA visa in advance, the VWP allows them to travel at short notice, without completing the often lengthy process of applying for a visa. The US Visa Waiver can be used by travellers entering either by air or by sea. Visitors are required to hold a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization in order to take advantage of the scheme.

Member countries of the Visa Waiver Program

A total of 38 countries are members of the USA Visa Waiver Program. The member countries are:

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

How to start your application

The US ESTA application procedure is completed entirely online. There is no need to print any forms and applicants are not required to go in person to the US Embassy or Consulate. The online system is designed to “screen” travellers prior to setting off for the USA before they are permitted to board an aircraft or ship.

Check if you qualify for the USA ESTA Visa Waiver before submitting your online application. In order to qualify, applicants must be a national, or a citizen, of an ESTA waiver country. They must not currently have a USA ESTA visitor’s visa. Their planned stay in the USA must be for 90 days or less and the visit must be for business or pleasure purposes. The Visa Waiver can also be used by people entering the US for medical purposes.

How soon must you apply?

Travellers whose destination is the United States are advised to apply for the travel authorisation at least 72 hours prior to their departure. Applicants are now subject to enhanced security requirements. Under Section 217(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, ESTA is one of several measures in place to enhance the Visa Waiver Program’s security features.

There are three simple steps to complete your ESTA application. First, go to the online application form and complete it thoroughly. Then, make your payment and submit it. Finally, you can check your application’s status online.

How will I know when my application is approved?

An ESTA application will receive one of three responses. If the message is “authorisation approved”, the applicant can travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. Applicants who receive an “authorisation pending” message must check back online for updates. A final response will be received within 72 hours. Applicants whose applications are refused can’t travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program.

What information is required to complete an ESTA application?

The applicant must provide, in English, certain personal data, including their name, date of birth and passport information. They must also provide their destination address in the United States. The traveller must answer various VWP eligibility questions. These include questions on communicable diseases, convictions for certain crimes, arrests and their past history of deportation or visa revocation.

Why is the ESTA Visa Waiver vital?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization was introduced by the Department for Homeland Security in November 2008. The USA government has implemented the authorisation procedure to secure travel for citizens from relevant countries who meet the required security standards. It filters out those people from the authorisation process who don’t meet the necessary standards. Those people who are deemed to require a thorough examination in order to travel to the United States must apply for an official USA Visa.

Does a travel authorisation guarantee admission to the US?

The ESTA waiver does not necessarily guarantee admission. An ESTA approval authorises the traveller only to board an aircraft or boat for travel to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. Even if the ESTA is approved, it is not a guarantee that the traveller will be admitted at the USA port of entry. In all cases, the US Customs Border and Protection officers will carry out admissibility determinations at all ports of entry and pre-clearance facilities.

Is a travel authorisation a visa?

No, the ESTA waiver is not a full visa. It is necessary only for a traveller using the Visa Waiver Program. It is merely a travel requirement. Individuals who are not eligible to travel on the Visa Waiver Program must apply for a full visa in advance. Anyone who already holds a valid US visitor visa need not apply for ESTA.

What happens if I do not get approval?

Statistics compiled by the Department of Homeland Security show that more than 99% of all ESTA applicants are approved. However, should your application be denied, you must apply for a United States visitor visa, the B-2 Tourist Visa. Embassies and Consulates will be unable to provide details about why an ESTA application was denied, or resolve any issue that caused the denial.

If your US Visa Waiver is not approved the first time, you can reapply after 10 days. Applying for the authorisation with false information will lead to you being permanently barred from visiting the United States.

or how long is the travel authorisation valid?

An approved ESTA is valid for two years, or until your passport expires if this is before the two-year period. During this time period, multiple entries to the USA are permitted.

What happens after your application is approved?

An approved application allows foreigners to travel to the USA within two years for a stay of no longer than 90 days. You must make sure that the purpose of the trip is in line with the visa-free travel regulations. If you stay longer than 90 days, you will be required to apply for a residence visa or a business visa.

Do children need an ESTA registration?

Children travelling to the United States also need a valid ESTA. They must have their own digital passport or e-passport in order to apply for an ESTA.

When do I need to renew my ESTA?

A new ESTA visa waiver is required if you’re issued a new passport; if you change your first or your last name; if you change your gender; if your country of citizenship changes; or if your circumstances change. This includes if you’re convicted of certain crimes, or if you develop a contagious disease. Any such changes may require you to get a visa to enter the US. When you re-apply, your application must reflect any change in your circumstances. If not, you may be denied entry on arrival to the United States.

Do I need to print a copy of my ESTA waiver?

It is important that you print a copy of the online document for your own records. You will not require a print-out on arriving at the United States. The border officers will have access to the information electronically. However, some airlines require travellers to produce the printout at check-in. It’s useful to check with your airline what their requirements are.