According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Visa Wavier Program (VWP) permits people from 38 countries the right to travel to America for business or tourism of up to 90 days – without a visa. Those 38 countries, in return, permit US citizens and nationals the right to enter their countries for similar lengths of time for the same business and tourism purposes. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) began in 1986. It is now recognized as a “comprehensive security partnership “with the participating countries.
The participating countries are:
• Andorra • Australia • Austria • Belgium • Brunei • Chile • Czech Republic • Denmark • Estonia • Finland • France • Germany • Greece
• Hungary • Iceland • Ireland • Italy • Japan • Latvia • Liechtenstein • Lithuania • Luxembourg • Malta • Monaco • Netherlands • New Zealand
• Norway • Poland • Portugal • San Marino • Singapore • Slovakia • Slovenia • South Korea • Spain • Sweden • Switzerland • Taiwan • United Kingdom
In Fiscal Year 2014, VWP travelers helped the US economy by spending nearly $84 billion on goods and services.
B1 Visa Standards
All VWP travelers must conduct activities that would be permitted on a B1 visa.
Acceptable business and tourist activities include:
Business. Acceptable activities include consulting with associates, attending conferences (business, scientific, educational, or professional), attending short-term training, and contract negotiation.
Tourism. Acceptable activities include vacationing, getting medical treatment, spending time with relatives and friends, participating in social events (“hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations”), and enrolling in short recreational (non-credit) courses of study.
The Vetting Process
According to the US State Department, a VWP traveler without a visa, “must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier. ESTA is a web-based system operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to determine eligibility to travel under the VWP to the United States for tourism or business. Visit the ESTA webpage on the CBP website for more information.”
“The VWP utilizes a risk-based, multi-layered approach to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other mala fide actors from traveling to the United States.” Travelers to the US using the VWP should expect to be vetted prior to their US departure, on arrival, and during any future air trail within the US.
The US Department of Homeland Security “coordinates with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to vet ESTA applications to ensure that travel authorizations are not issued to individuals who pose a threat to national security. In November 2014, DHS began requiring ESTA applicants to provide additional information to further enhance its ability to identify applicants on the U.S. terrorist watchlist.” “DHS automatically screens all ESTA information against numerous U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism databases, as well as INTERPOL databases, while upholding strict privacy standards. “
As of April 1, 2016, all travelers must have an e-passport to use the VWP. An e-Passport is an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip.
Contact an experienced immigration attorney for any questions about the Visa Waiver Program.