What is a Visa Waiver Programme?
A Visa Waiver Programme was introduced by the United States in 1986. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administers the programme which currently entails security partnerships with some of the important allies of the United States. Nationals of 38 countries can visit the United States for tourism or business purposes for 90 days without visas. Likewise, the 38 countries listed under the visa waiver programme (as member or participating countries) should allow US citizens to enter their countries for the same period of time without visas for business and tourism purposes.
Visa Waiver Programme Member Countries
The list of countries which are members of the Visa Waiver Programme are listed below:
- Czech Republic
- Greece Hungary
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
Citizens who come under the purview of the Visa Waiver programme should receive an authorization through an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection before setting off or the United States. In other words, ESTA determines whether an applicant is eligible under the visa waiver programme to enter the United States without a Visa. Applicants should always check their status on the official website of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It is important to note that if an applicant is part of the Visa waiver programme member country, he is not automatically eligible to enter the US sans a visa. He will require an authorization via ESTA and shall be screened at the port of entry.
Passport specifications under ESTA
Travelers under the VWP should submit passports which can be read by machines. A machine-readable passport entails important bio-data of the holder on its data page. Passports (machine-readable) renewed after 2006 should have integrated chips with pertinent information from e-Passport. Passports which were issued/extended (between October 2005 and October 2006) need to have digital photographs.
Eligibility conditions under Visa Waiver Programme
Citizens of the aforementioned member countries can enter the United States for business and tourism for 90 days under specific conditions as listed below:
- Register and receive authorization via ESTA
- Possess an e-passport
- Possess a visa waiver programme passport
- Plan to stay in the US for a period of 90 days
- Intend to travel to the US to meet business associates, conferences or contract negotiations
- Intend to travel to the US for tourism, visit relatives, social service, medical treatment, sporting activities and musical concerts among others
- Possess a return ticket if entering the US by sea or air. Also, travelers who possess onward tickets and wish to disembark at Canada, Caribbean Islands and Bermuda among others should be residents of the said countries
Ineligible under Visa Waiver Programme
Under the Visa Waiver Programme, citizens with criminal records, communicable diseases and hitherto deported from the U.S are not eligible to avail of the Visa Waiver Programme even if they satisfy other conditions. They can, however, travel to the United States if they apply for a separate visa.
Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015
The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 entails new requirements in terms of eligibility. All travelers under the Visa Waiver Programme should have an e-passport to enter the United States. Several upgraded security measures are laid down in this Act. For instance, citizens of VWP member nations who visited countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Sudan are not eligible under the Visa Waiver programme. Travelers with dual citizenship (VWP member countries as well as Iraq and Syria) are ineligible to enter United States under the visa waiver programme. There are some exceptions under the Act as listed below:
Individuals who visited countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan to perform official responsibilities as representatives of international and regional organizations and NGOs or on a journalistic assignment in addition to any legal business purposes
Revoking Visa under VWP
In case a traveler receives an email that his ESTA has been revoked, can travel to the United States if he has a non-immigrant valid visa. It is important to note that the aforementioned Act does not in any manner, enforce a ‘ban’ in terms of entering the United States, subject to a valid visa.
Visa extension and change of status under VWP
An individual who enters United States under the Visa Waiver Program cannot extend the duration of his visit/stay and should exit the country on or before the stated date on his admission stamp. An individual who is eligible under the VWP cannot change his status after gaining entry into the United States.
News about Visa Waiver Programme
Brazil proposes Visa-Waiver for US, Japan, Canada and Australia
The Brazilian government is considering a visa waiver for citizens of the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia in an effort to increase tourism. The proposal by the Tourism Minister Beltr would extent a 12-month trial period visa-waiver program implemented for tourists from the four countries visiting Brazil for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The President of Brazil Michel Temer hopes to attract more foreign investment and tourists to boost the economy after the country was hit by its worst recession since the 1930s. In 2015, 575,800 US citizens visited Brazil, merely, 10% of the total visitors to the country. The visa exemption would become permanent if the number of visitors increase and the same is reciprocated by the governments of the four countries. The ministry is considering several other countries for this exemption including China. Brazil hopes to attract some of the 100 million Chinese tourists who travel abroad each year, last year only 55,000 Chinese tourists visited the country.
Home Ministry Denies ˜Visa-Free Entry Program
The commerce ministry had made a proposal where business visitors and tourists from economic partners and countries like Brazil, Russia,China and South Africa would be allowed to enter india without a visa. The home ministry has denied the proposal citing security as a reason for the rejection. THey also said that as things stand, there is no need for such a program to be instated since the rejection rate of such visas is already very low, just about 1% in fact. They also quoted the numbers and said that this year a total of 1,53,4313 visa applications for India were received, out of which a only about 16,000 were rejected. They also said that with facilities like e-visa and processing times of 48 hours, with an approval rate of 87%, being followed, such initiatives were not required at the moment. They said that visa-free travel in India could constitute a security risk and also said that with the new relaxation in the rules for visas, such a proposal was, once again, rendered unnecessary
Visa Waiver Programme Supported by US Travel
The chief executive and president of US Travel, Roger Dow, recently revealed that a cessation of the visa waiver programme had the potential to have ˜disastrous effect on all involved. In 2015, 52% of all international visitors to the United States arrived via the visa waiver programme as it ensured that individuals could travel between the US and EU nations. Discussions regarding the programme's long-term viability presently revolve around the exclusion of five nations “ Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Cyprus and Romania. Results of the deliberations are expected to be announced to the public in the first week of July.
Enhanced Information Sharing Required by Countries Under Visa Waiver Program
Over 33% of countries under the Visa Waiver Program have not shared terrorism identity data as they should have under the agreements made between the US and its international partners. As a result, a significant lack of counterterrorism communication has been exposed, the Government Accountability Office revealed recently.
The administration of the Visa Waiver Program has been conducted by the Department of Homeland Security. Under the program, eligible nationals or citizens of 38 designated countries will be allowed to travel to the US for business or tourism for a maximum period of 90 days without the need for a visa.