The Visa Waiver Program is set up, with countries that we have agreements with, to not require a visa to enter the United States. The United States decides who is allowed to enter on the Visa Waiver Program. Essentially, what it means is you don’t need a visa to enter the US, but as a requirement of the Visa Waiver Program, that country must have electronic machine-readable passports. If you do not have a machine-readable passport, then you’re not going to be allowed to use the Visa Waiver Program.
Most commonly, visa waiver countries are France, England, Italy, countries where we have a good relationship with, where the economy is fine overseas, and they are not worried that people from those countries are going to come in and overstay. If you are from a country that has a Visa Waiver, all you’ll need to enter is your passport. You’re allowed to stay in the United States for 90 days, and no more than that. If you stay over the 90 days, then you’ll no longer be allowed to use the Visa Waiver Program in the future, and always be required to apply for a visa.
The other thing to keep in mind about the Visa Waiver Program is that you cannot change status from the Visa Waiver Program unless you’re married to a United States citizen, or you are applying for an immediate relative, such as your parent, to stay in the United States. In all other categories, you can’t change status. In addition, the Visa Waiver Program means that you’re waiving your rights. If you do something wrong in the United States, like get arrested, Immigration doesn’t have the authority to put you into removal proceedings, or set a bond on you. They would automatically have to detain you, and remove you from the United States if you violate the Visa Waiver Program, and they come into contact with you.
Of course, deportation officers have discretion to do certain things, but it’s very important to keep in mind that you don’t want to have any problems on the Visa Waiver Program because you’ve waived your rights. In addition, once you’re here on the Visa Waiver, you cannot extend your status, so you can’t ask for an additional six months to stay in the United States. The Visa Waiver Program is great if you’re coming in just for a visit, and you intend to leave before the 90 days and go back home. It’s a great program. If you think you want to overstay, or you think you might get into trouble here in the United States, then it’s not a good idea to come on a Visa Waiver.
In addition, if you’re coming in on Visa Waiver, you must register under ESTA, which is computer-based program run through CBP, Customs and Border Patrol, and you must fill out that application prior to getting on the plane. You could be denied ESTA if you apply for it, which means that you won’t be able to enter the United States on Visa Waiver. Again, make sure to apply for that before you enter this country.
If you have questions about Visa Waiver, or you’ve been denied under ESTA, or you’ve been refused admission under Visa Waiver and returned home, please contact my office, and I’d be happy to discuss your situation with you.
Cheryl David is an experienced immigration attorney in New York City. Please contact her office regarding immigration problems or general procedures and set up a free initial consultation.