What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certaincountries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986
with the objective of promoting better relations with U.S. allies, eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry,and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas.
Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
Currently, 27 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, including Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei,Czech Republic Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany,Greece Iceland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Ability to travel under VWP is based on nationality, not place of birth.
What about Canadian, Mexican or Bermudan citizens and VWP?
- Canada, Mexico and Bermuda are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program. The Immigration and Nationality Act includes other provisions for visa-free travel for nationals of Canada and Bermuda under certain circumstances.
- VWP requirements for machine-readable or biometric passports do not apply to nationals of Canada, Mexico or Bermuda.
Conditions For Using VWP (Instead Of Obtaining Visa)
Which travelers may use the Visa Waiver Program to enter the United States?
Nationals of the 27 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may use VWP if:
- The purpose of their stay in the United States is 90 days or less for tourism or business;
- They present a valid machine-readable passport (of any type – regular, emergency, diplomatic, official, etc.). Depending on when VWP travelers’ passports were issued, other passport requirements apply:
- Passports issued before 10/26/05 – no further requirements
- Passports issued between 10/26/05 and 10/25/06
- digitized photograph on data page
- Passports issued on or after 10/26/06 – integrated chip with information from the data page (e-passport)
- Holders of Italian, French and German Temporary Passports
- Temporary, emergency, official and diplomatic passports are exempted from biometric digital photo and chip requirements, but must be machine-readable.
- They have complied with the conditions of previous admissions under the Visa Waiver Program, and have not been found ineligible for a U.S. visa; and
- If arriving by air or sea, they are traveling on an approved carrier and have a return trip ticket to any foreign destination (Travelers who have been admitted under the Visa WaiverProgram and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico, oran adjacent island generally can be readmitted to theUnited States under the VWP for the original admission period. See the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website for additional details); or
- If arriving by land, they can demonstrate the intent to stay 90 days or less in the United States and sufficient funds to support themselves while in the United States. VWP nationalsresident in Mexico, Canada or adjacent islands are generallyexempted from requirements to show onward travel to other foreign destinations.
- Effective January 20, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security is transitioning to enforced compliance of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) requirementfor VWP travelers. Therefore, VWP travelers who have not obtained approval through ESTA should expect to be denied boarding on any aircarrier bound for the United States. As of January 12, 2009, a valid ESTA approval is required for all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to travel to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a free, automated system usedto determinethe eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the VWP.It collects the same information as the paper I-94W form thatVWP travelers fill out en route to the United States. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel. An ESTA authorization generally will be valid forup to two years. Authorizations will be valid for multiple entries into the United States. DHS recommends that travelers submit an ESTA application as soon as they begin making travel plans.Learn more about ESTA on the DHS Customs and BorderProtection at the CBP website. ESTA applications may be completed FREE online at the official DHS website. Review the important DHS Advisory Warning about unauthorized third-party ESTA application related web sites.Bearers of official and diplomatic passports can enter the United States under the VWP provided they are entering for a B-visa purpose. If they are coming for an A or G purpose, including a temporary assignment of less than 90 days, the traveler must obtain an A or G visa. Representatives of the foreign press, radio, film, journalists or other information media, engaging in that vocation while in the United States may not enter the United States on the Visa Waiver Program. These professionals must obtain a nonimmigrant media (I) visa.
What about travelers carrying passports without the required biometrics?
- Only passports issued on or after October 26, 2006 are subject to the additional requirement for an integrated circuit chip as outlined above. Similarly, only passports issued on or after October 26, 2005 are subject to the additional requirements for a digital photo or integrated chip.Passports issued prior to these dates that meet prior specifications will continue to be valid for travel until they expire.
What is a machine-readable passport? What is an e-Passport (or biometric passport)?
- A machine-readable passport has certain biographical data entered on the data page in accordance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Doc 9303, Part 1 Machine-Readable Passports. These standards address issues like the size of the passport and photograph, arrangement of data fields, and the two lines of printed machine-readable data that appear at the bottom of the page. Machine-readable passports can be read by scanning the two lines of printed data through special readers.
- Travelers should contact their country’s passport issuing agency or authority if they have any doubts related to whether their passport is machine-readable.
- An e-Passport (sometimes referred to as a biometric passport) incorporates data related to an individual’s identity; current ICAO guidelines call for e-passports to include facial recognition data. The contours of individuals’ faces are digitally mapped and stored on the chip so that a comparison of facial data for the bearer of the passport and the facial data of the person to whom the passport was issued can be made.
On what basis does the United States require machine-readable and biometric passports from VWP travelers?
- The 2000 Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act (P.L. 106-396) requiredall VWP travelers to have machine-readable passports (MRPs). The 2001 USA PATRIOT Act advanced the machine-readable passport deadline to October 1, 2003. In September 2003, the Secretary of State exercised his authority to waive the MRP requirement for 22 of the 27 countries until October 26, 2004 (Belgian travelers were required to begin using MRPs in May 2003, and Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein and Slovenia did not request a waiver). The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, began full enforcement of the MRP requirement June 26, 2005.
- The 2002 Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (EBSVERA) required that passports issued after October 26, 2004 and used for VWP travel include a biometric identifier based on standards established by ICAO. August 2004 legislation (HR 4417) extended EBSVERA biometric passport deadlines by one year to October 26, 2005. EBSVERA does not provide for authority to waive biometric passport requirements.
What about family passports for VWP travelers?
Families seeking to enter the United States under the VWP need to obtain an individual machine-readable passport that meets program requirements for each traveler, including infants.
VWP At Ports Of Entry
What happens to VWP travelers at ports of entry?
- Detailed information about admissions and entry to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program can be obtained from DHS’ Customs & Border Protection Bureau.
- Since September 30, 2004 VWP travelers have been enrolled in the DHS US-VISIT program when they arrive at U.S. ports of entry.
- Travelers should be aware that by requesting admission under the Visa Waiver Program, they are generally waiving their right to reviewor appeal a CBP officer’s decision as to their application for admissionat the port of entry. Likewise, if the traveler is later found to have violated the conditions of admission under the Visa Waiver Program, they do not have the right to contest a removal order.
Is there a fee to use the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
There is a $6.00 land border fee for VWP travelers arriving at land ports of entry, per 8 CFR § 103.7(b)(1).
For more information on Visa Waiver Program visit the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau of Consular Affairs.