The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The program applies to the 50 U.S. states as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. All of the qualifying countries are high-income economies and generally regarded as developed countries.
Congress passed legislation in 1986 to create the Visa Waiver Program with the aim of facilitating tourism and short-term business visits to the United States, and allowing consular resources to focus on addressing higher risks. The United Kingdom became the first country to participate in the Visa Waiver Program in July of 1988, followed by Japan in December of 1988. All participating nations must provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens usually in the amount of ninety days for tourism or business. A person entering the United States cannot request an extension of the original allowed period of stay as with a regular visa. However, visitors may request to adjust status on the basis of marriage to a United States citizen or an application for asylum.
All travelers must have individual passports. Children may not be included on a parent’s passport. Specific passport requirements depend on the date the passport was issued:
- Passports issued before October 26, 2005 must be machine readable.
- Passports issued between October 26, 2005 and October 25, 2006 must be machine readable and contain a digitized photograph.
- Passports issued after October 26, 2006 must be biometric
All incoming passengers are required to complete an I-94W form online before departure to the United States preferably at least 3 days in advance. This requirement is intended to enhance United States security by pre-screening passengers against terrorist and no-fly lists and databases. An approved travel authorization is:
- Valid for up to two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first;
- Valid for multiple entries into the U.S.; and
- Not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. Officers make admissibility determinations at ports of entry.
If denied entry at a port of entry, the decision is final and there is no appellate or review process. Applicants for admission under the visa waiver program:
- Must have complied with the conditions of all previous admissions to the United States.;
- Must not have been arrested for or convicted of an offense of moral turpitude.
- Must not be otherwise inadmissible to the United States, such as on health or national security grounds; and
- Must be intending to visit the United States for transit, tourism, or a short term business visit.
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