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Visa Waiver / ESTA Overview

Overview

The Department of State’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of designated countries to travel to the United States as a visitor for business or pleasure for up to 90 days, without requiring a visa.  Individuals who wish to travel to the U.S. on VWP must have a valid ESTA approval.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”) Program is an automated system that determines eligibility to enter the United States for temporary stay under the Visa Waiver program. The ESTA program itself does not determine admissibility. The Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officers will determine the admissibility at the time of each individual traveler’s arrival.

Who Qualifies?

Individuals are eligible to apply for ESTA if they are a citizen or national of a Visa Waiver country. U.S. travel must be for 90 days or less and travel to the U.S. must be for purposes of business, pleasure or transit.

How to complete the ESTA Application

The ESTA Application is an online form administered through CBP. The application requires a valid e-passport from a Visa Waiver country; a valid credit card to pay the application fee; and the applicant’s contact information and most recent employment information, if applicable. As of April 1, 2016, all travelers under the Visa Waiver Program must possess an e-passport, an enhanced secure passport with a digital chip and machine-readable zone.

The application contains four sections:

  • Applicant Information (name, birthdate, citizenship, passport info, parents names, contact information, global entry, social media, employment);
  • Travel information (U.S. point of contact, address, emergency contacts);
  • Eligibility questions; and
  • Payment information.

It is essential that the application is completed truthfully and comprehensively.

How long is the processing time?

The application is completed online and CBP makes a decision within 72 hours. In most cases, the approval is received immediately following the application submission, but a VWP visitor must hold an approved ESTA before arriving at the airport for travel. As such, CBP recommends the 72-hour advance filing. Prior to submitting the application, the applicant is asked to sign a waiver of rights to review or appeal the admissibility determination of the CBP officer under the Visa Waiver Program.

Validity and When to Update your ESTA

The ESTA travel authorization is valid for two years from the date of authorization or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. The authorization is generally valid for multiple trips to the U.S. for 90 a period of days or less.

If you obtain a new passport or change your name, gender or country of citizenship, you will be required to complete a new travel authorization application and pay the associated fees. In addition, if your circumstances have changed, thereby altering any of the “yes” or “no” questions on the application, a new application may be required. 

Once the ESTA application is approved, you can update your email address or U.S. address online by updating the links under “Check ESTA Status.”

What if the application is denied?

If an applicant receives a ‘Travel Not Authorized’ response on his or her application, it does not mean that he or she cannot gain entry into the U.S. Depending on the nature of the denial, alternative options may exist to enter the U.S. beyond the visa waiver program, such as applying for a B-1 visa at a US Consular Post. The ESTA site also provides a link to the DHS Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP), allowing an applicant to file a request for redress to attempt to resolve the ineligibility issue.

Please contact your immigration attorney to discuss the best strategy for your situation.

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