Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program lets the citizens in 36 countries come to the U.S. to visit for up to three months with no need to get a regular visa. It is meant as a way to get more tourism into the U.S. and saves valuable resources for the Department of State from being wasted.

Who can use the Visa Waiver Program?

Any traveler that may be eligible to use a Visa Waiver Program has to also be meet specific eligibility factors. For instance, they must have been authorized to travel via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before leaving on their trip, the must be screened at their entry point in the U.S., and they must be enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program. They also must be a citizen of the 36 countries listed in the program.

In addition, their passport must not expire for at least six months after their expected exit from the U.S., they must not be representatives of the media looking for work, they must be traveling on an approved carrier, they must have a return ticket to someplace outside of the U.S. (except for citizens of Mexico, Canada or island countries adjacent to the U.S.), and they must show they have enough money to be able to stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less.

Countries in the Visa Waiver Program

The countries that are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program include: Andorra, Hungary, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, San Marino, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, South Korea, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden, Malta, France, Germany, Monaco, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands and the UK.

All eligible countries have to follow strict security requirements, as well as maintain strict compliance with border control, anti-terrorism, following current laws and regulations, and follow document security current standards. The U.S. government has the discretion to grant or not grant membership in this program.

Times when regular visa is required

If a citizen of one of the allowed 36 countries meets the proper requirements they can use a Visa waiver Program, but if not, they must get a regular visa to travel to the U.S. This rule applies when someone wishes to stay in the U.S. more than three months, wants to be a student instead of a tourist, wants to get a job in the U.S., wants to be in the U.S. as a foreign media representative, wants to live permanently in the U.S. and immigrate, doesn’t have a passport readable by a machine or that has an integrated electronic chip in it (certain countries, i.e. Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Republic of Korea, Greece, and the Czech Republic), intends to come into the U.S. via a private plane or other non-approved method, has a criminal record, has been refused entry previously, or is known to have previously not followed or complied with the rules regarding the visa waiver program in the past or has a record of being denied a regular visa for travel.

What else is needed to use the Visa Waiver Program?

Visitors to the U.S. using the visa waiver program must also present a filled out I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record and give it to the officials at their entry point into the United States. You can usually get them on your airplane or cruise ship prior to arrival and they are free of charge to fill out.

Visitors may also have to show why they are coming to the U.S. through some sort of documentation and their passports must be machine readable. This means that their passport has to meet standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Doc 9303, Part 1 Machine-Readable Passports.

These requirements include rules regarding the size of the passport and photo, layout of the information in the passport, and two lines of special printed machine-readable data must be showing on the bottom of the pages. These kinds of passports are scanned via special scanner machines.

All family members in a group have to have their own machine readable passport. This includes babies too. That means that if you have a passport that has more than one family member listed on it, then you may not use the visa waiver program unless you change over to individual passports.

Special rules for emergency travel

If they are traveling via an emergency or temporary passport for some valid reason, then it must be an e-Passport if they are planning on traveling by using the visa waiver program. This may be in the case of people coming to the U.S. for an emergency medical procedure.

E-Passports have on them the information regarding the person’s identity, and must contain facial recognition information according to existing guidelines of the ICAO. This means that the contours of a person’s face are mapped out digitally and the data is embedded within a computer chip. These types of passports have a special international symbol on their cover as well.

For more data regarding all the most current rules and regulations on the Visa Waiver Program, check out the websites of the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection.