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Visa Waiver Program

While most visitors must have visas in order to travel to the US, certain visitors do not. Under the Visa Waiver Program, eligible foreign nationals from certain countries may travel to the US for business or tourism purposes without visas. In order to qualify, their time in the US must be limited to 90 days or less.

Currently, there are 27 countries that are partners in the Visa Waiver Program. These include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada and Mexico have separate agreements with the US that allow for similar travel without visas. See the US State Department Web site for more information.

Not all citizens from countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program will be eligible to enter the US without a visa. In order to meet the program's requirements, the foreign nationals must:

  • Be eligible under US immigration laws to receive a visa
  • Enter the US on an approved business or tourism purpose
  • If they entered the US under the Visa Waiver Program previously, complied with all of the conditions of the program
  • Have a return ticket or other proof of their intention to return home within 90 days
  • Have evidence of the intended purpose of their trip, whether business documents, travel arrangements or other proof

Additionally, foreign nationals must have a passport that is valid for six months after the end of their expected stay in the US. The passport must be machine-readable. If the passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006, it must be an E-Passport, which has an integrated computer chip containing information about the passport holder, including name, date of birth, address and other biographic information.

As a condition for participating in the program, foreign nationals agree to waive some of their rights, including the right to appeal removal orders and the right to contest the decision by the Department of Homeland Security Officer to deny entry.

Those who are admitted into the United States under the Visa Waiver Program will have to obtain a Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94W) at their port of entry. They also will have to enroll in the US-VISIT program, which requires all foreign nationals entering the US to provide fingerprints and digital photographs. This information is then collected in a database to cross-reference the identities of those seeking to enter the country and match them with their travel documents. The program was instituted by the Department of Homeland Security to detect those attempting to enter the US with fraudulent travel documents.

A new pre-screening program specifically for the Visa Waiver Program was introduced on August 1, 2008. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) allows those wishing to enter the US without a visa to check their eligibility before leaving home. They will then be notified if they have received travel authorization or if they will be required to apply for a visa. ESTA is currently a voluntary program, but will become a mandatory requirement for all Visa Waiver Program participants on January 12, 2009.

Getting Ready To Apply for a Visa

To read and print out a copy of the checklist, please follow the link below.

Getting Ready to Apply for a Visa

You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here.

Copyright © 2008 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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