By Michael Phulwani, Esq. and Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism without obtaining a visa from a US Consular Post or Embassy, for usually up to 90 days. The program is run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with the State Department. In return, those 38 countries must also allow U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for business or tourism purposes without a visa for a similar length of time.
A foreign citizen must meet all of the following requirements to travel to the United States under the VMP:
• Must be a citizen or national of one of the qualifying 38 countries. Some of the countries that participate in the VMP are Italy, Japan, The United Kingdom, Spain, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Denmark.
• Must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is a system managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to verify if the foreign citizen is eligible to travel under the VMP to the U.S. ESTA is usually valid for two years and must be updated if there are any changes to your name, gender, marital status, passport, country of citizenship, and the “yes” or “no” questions on the ESTA application.
• Must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the planned departure from the U.S. Each foreign citizen must have their own passport including children and infants.
• Must have an e-passport. An e-passport is a heightened security passport with an implanted electronic chip. The chip is scanned to match the identity of the traveler to the passport. If a foreign citizen is using an emergency or temporary passport to travel to the U.S. on the VMP, the passport must be an e-passport.
Foreign citizens are allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to ninety days. The following are some examples of activities that they are allowed to participate while in the U.S.
• For business purposes
o Confer with business associates,
o Attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference,
o Negotiate a contract
• For tourism purposes
o Visit friends and family
o Medical treatment
o Enroll in a short recreational course of study such as a two-day art class
Foreign citizens traveling to the U.S. through the VWP are not allowed to study for credit, work, or maintain a permanent residence in the U.S. If while in the U.S. a foreign citizen would like to travel to Canada, Mexico, or a nearby island they may do so and are usually allowed to be readmitted to the U.S. under the VWP for the remainder of the original 90 days granted from their initial arrival to the U.S. Visitors through the VWP are not allowed to extend their initial stay in the U.S. and are not allowed to change their status while in the U.S. Moreover, VWP participants by accepting the allowance or entrance into the United States waive their right to see an Immigration Judge, in most instances, if they are found to have violated the terms of their status.
This is a fantastic mode of travel ability for individuals from countries that are in these relationships with the United States.