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Citizens of countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program may apply for travel authorization to the United States through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. In order to use this electronic system, applicants must meet certain requirements involving their country of residence, the length of their planned stay in the United States, the reason for the trip, and other aspects pertaining to their prospective visit.

The Visa Waiver Program and Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) are both administered by Customs and Border Protection, an agency which provides law enforcement for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Individuals who wish to apply for travel authorization may benefit from speaking to a knowledgeable visa lawyer to learn more about their legal options.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens or foreign nationals from certain countries to come to the U.S. for 90 days or less for business or tourism without the need to obtain a visa. In order to take advantage of the program, participants must be from a participating country and must obtain travel authorization. Visitors who would prefer to travel with a visa still have the option to apply for a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa.

To enter the U.S. through the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must meet certain requirements. These include:

  • Citizenship in a VWP-designated country
  • Travel for business or tourism for no longer than 90 days
  • A passport valid for at least six months after the planned departure date from the U.S.
  • A passport with an embedded e-chip
  • A valid ESTA

A list of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may be found on the U.S. State Department website or in 8 CFR §217.2. Some citizens or nationals from participating countries may not be eligible to use the visa waiver program if they have traveled to certain areas or hold dual citizenship in certain countries.

Applying for an Electronic Travel Authorization

Those who meet the requirements for the Visa Waiver Program and who have a credit card to pay $14 per application may file an individual or group ESTA application online through the Customs and Border Protection website. In addition to the passport and credit card, applicants must provide contact information and, if applicable, employment information.

If the applicant does not provide payment at the time of filing, it must be provided within seven days. Applicants may return to the website at any time to check their ESTA status or view a copy of the receipt.

An approved ESTA is generally valid for two years or until the expiration of the traveler’s passport, whichever comes first. The applicant’s data remains stored with the Department of Homeland Security for one year after the expiration of the ESTA, at which point it is archived for 12 years for law enforcement purposes. For more information, reach out to a dedicated immigration lawyer.

Get Assistance with the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA

ESTA is supposed to provide an application status report within 72 hours of filing the application. The response may authorize travel, report that authorization is still pending, or state that travel authorization is denied. If the ESTA refuses to authorize travel, the traveler should apply to the Department of State for a visa.

Sn ESTA denial does not prohibit travel to the U.S. but only prohibits travel through the Visa Waiver Program. Those needing assistance with the Visa Waiver Program/Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) may wish to consult a seasoned immigration lawyer for more information. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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