The Visa Waiver Program is a program that allows nationals of selected countries to visit the United States without a visa. The program was designed to encourage tourism and to eliminate some of the barriers to international travel. Only certain nationals of participating countries are allowed to apply for the program, subject to various restrictions. 

A stay in the U.S. under the waiver program is limited to 90 days maximum, and the visitor cannot extend their stay or change their immigration status under the program.   

Which countries currently participate in the visa waiver program?

Currently 36 countries qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. These are:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

In order to qualify for participation in the visa waiver program, a country must meet strict requirements regarding security, international travel safety, and other standards. Selecting a country for participation in the waiver program is done at the United States’ discretion.

Which foreign nationals are eligible for the visa waiver program?

Not all nationals of a participating country are eligible for the visa waiver program. In order to qualify, the national must meet the following requirements:

  • They have been authorized to travel under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)- this involves an additional fee
  • They have passport which is valid for six months longer than their expected stay in the U.S. (some countries may be subject to exemptions
  • The purpose of stay in the U.S. is for tourism or business (Visitor “B” visa)
  • The stay in the United States will be for 90 days or less
  • If they are traveling by sea or by air, they must travel on an approved carrier. They must also have a return ticket to their country of origin
  • They can demonstrate that they have sufficient monetary funds to support themselves while in the U.S.

Also, some visa waiver program travelers are allowed to make short trips to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island during their 90 day stay. They will be readmitted to the U.S. for the balance of their original period for admission. Check with an attorney if you suspect that you will be making such a short trip during your stay.

What are some of the restrictions of the visa waiver program?

Generally, a national traveling to the U.S. under the visa waiver program may not extend their stay beyond the 90 period, nor will they be eligible for automatic visa revalidation. They are also prohibited from changing their immigration status under the visa waiver program. Finally, if they are denied an application or denied entry at a U.S. port, there are currently no options available for appeal.

If a national does not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, then they must apply for a visa before being allowed to enter the U.S. A visa must be applied for if the applicant:

  • Wishes to remain in the U.S. for more than 90 days
  • Indicates that they wish to change their status once in the U.S.
  • Wants to work or study in the U.S. or desires to immigrate to the U.S.
  • Is ineligible for a visa due to criminal record or other circumstances
  • Has previously been refused admission to the U.S. or did not comply with previous admissions under the visa waiver program

Do I need a lawyer for the visa waiver program?

If you or your loved ones are considering applying under the Visa Waiver Program, you may wish to consult an immigration attorney for advice. The Visa Waiver Program is very strict in its requirements, so it is essential that you determine your eligibility well in advance. Also, if you are denied, you may wish to apply for a different class of visa, in which case an immigration lawyer can be of great assistance.