The Visa Waiver Program allows foreign nationals from certain designated countries to enter the U.S. for a period of up to 90 days as a visitor for business or pleasure without obtaining a visa.
The Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP) was incorporated into the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1986. The program retained its pilot status until October 30, 2000, when the Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act made the program permanent, with some modifications.
The main advocates of the VWPP were the Department of State (DOS), the American tourist industry, and the business community. The DOS advanced a two-fold incentive for the program: (1) eliminating the requirement for nationals of high volume application/low denial rate countries to apply for nonimmigrant visitor and business visas at the Consulates, thus also eliminating processing paperwork and freeing consular resources for other activities; and (2) fostering better relations with reciprocity countries that allow U.S. citizens to also enter without a visa. The U.S. tourist industry was enthusiastic in its support of the program, as it correctly visualized that millions of tourists would take advantage of the opportunity to travel to the U.S. on the spur of the moment without the time-consuming inconvenience of having to obtain nonimmigrant visas prior to their visit the U.S. The business community also was supportive of the concept that people who did not have temporary visitor visas could enter the U.S. on short notice to conduct business.
To enter the U.S. under the VWP, you must fulfill certain criteria:
Advantages and Disadvantages of VWP
- Be a nonimmigrant (you have a home in a foreign country you have no intention of abandoning)
- Intend to enter the U.S. for 90 days or less
- Have a Machine Readable Passport lawfully issued to you by a VWP country that is valid for six months beyond your intended visit
- Be a national of the VWP country that issued your passport
- Have been checked using an automated electronic database containing information about inadmissible aliens to the U.S.
- Have a return trip ticket to any foreign destination other than a territory bordering on the U.S. or an adjacent island
- Present to the Immigration Inspector a completed and signed Form I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record
- Not pose a safety threat to the U.S.
- Not have failed to comply with the conditions of any previous admission under the VWP or the previous VWPP
The obvious advantage of entering the U.S. under the VWP is that you may travel to the U.S. spontaneously without obtaining a visa, unless you are otherwise inadmissible.
The disadvantages of the VWP are that you may not change or extend your nonimmigrant status after entering the U.S. If you are denied admission at the port of entry, you have no right to administrative or judicial review. Likewise, if you are found to have violated the terms of your admission, you also forfeit the right to contest a removal order. Visa Waiver entrants, like all other foreign nationals in the U.S., who overstay their authorized stay by either six months or one year are subject to the three and ten-year bars as they are ‘unlawfully present’ in the U.S. Even though these entrants do not have visas, they have I-94Ws with a specific expiration date, and remaining in the U.S. beyond that date will trigger the bars on reentry.
Short trips to Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands while on VWP
Generally, VWP entrants may be readmitted to the U.S. after a departure to Canada or Mexico or adjacent islands for the balance of their original admission period, provided they are otherwise admissible and meet all the conditions of the VWP, with the exception of arrival on a signatory carrier – in which case the inspecting officers have the discretion to grant the applicants entirely new periods of admission.
Visa-free travel under the VWP is surely hassle-free, however, it does not include those who plan to study, work or remain in the U.S. for more than 90 days. Such travelers need the appropriate visas. If an officer of the USCIS believes that a visa-free traveler is going to study, work or stay longer than 90 days, the officer will refuse to admit the traveler.
We at VisaPro are keeping track of all the developments related to biometrics and machine readable passports and will continue to update you on the latest happenings.
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