The Visa Waiver Program
Citizens of the 35 countries listed below are able to travel to the USA for tourism or business for stays of 90 days without needing to obtain a visa. This program is known as the Visa Waiver Program and it was instituted in 1986 to facilitate travel between the US and certain countries. Eligible citizens of Visa Waiver countries can also apply for the requisite visa if they want to work or study in the US. Before they travel to the US these VWP travelers have to apply for authorization through the Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA) three days before their journey. These travelers are then screened at their port of entry to the US and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.
Andorra, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Italy, San Marino, Belgium, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Denmark, Lithuania, South Korea, Estonia, Luxembourg, Spain, Finland, Malta, Sweden, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Hungary and New Zealand are the thirty five countries who participate in the Visa Waiver Program with the US.
This visa can be used for a reconnaissance visit if you are a citizen of one of these 35 countries. However there are certain conditions to be fulfilled for traveling under this program:
- Your passport should have a validity that extends for six months after your expected stay in the US.
- You should have a machine readable passport with an integrated electronic chip.
- You have to arrive by air or by sea on an approved carrier and you have to be in possession of a return ticket to any foreign destination after your stay in the US.
- You have to demonstrate that you intend to stay for less than 90 days in the US and have sufficient funds to do so. If you intend to change your status from traveler to student while in US or if you plan to work in the US you cannot use the VWP but have to go back to your home country and make the appropriate application at your local U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy.
B1 or B2 Visa
If you are not a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program and if you want to just visit the US in order to explore the various possibilities that it offers, you would have to apply for an ordinary tourist or B2 visa.
In order to apply for a visitor visa you must be able to prove to consular staff at your local US consulate or embassy that you intend to enter the US for pleasure or on short term business (B1 visa of the same category), you plan to remain in the US for only a specified period of time, you have sufficient resources to fund your trip, you have compelling social and economic ties at your place of residence to which you have binding ties that you do not wish to relinquish.
US Immigration Law presumes that every applicant who applies for a US visa is an intending immigrant so the visa applicant has to convince the consular officer who interviews the applicant that he /she has no intention of violating the terms of the visa. Issuance of a visa doesn’t, however, guarantee admittance to the US. Entry is determined by the immigration officer at the US port-of-entry. The immigration officer at the port of entry also stamps the B2 visa holder’s I-94 Arrival and Departure card specifying the amount of time the visa holder can remain in the country. This period is generally six months though extensions are possible.
Required documents for a B1 or B2 Visa
- A completed DS-160 Form, which is an electronic application and now used by all consular offices. The former non-electronic version DS-156 form can still be used but must be printed and the current version expires 5/31/2011, so be aware of updates for that form. The electronic forms for Nonimmigrant visas can be found at http://evisaforms.state.gov/
- A Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 is also required to be filed by all male applicants who are between 16-45 years of age. This form provides information about your travel plans. However, if you are a citizen of a state which is designated as a sponsor of terrorism you have to file this form no matter what gender or age you are. Currently Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Iran are designated as states that sponsor terrorism.
- A valid passport for travel to the United States, your passport should have a validity date of at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the US. If your children are traveling on your passport, individual visa applications have to be made for them as well.
- Applicants are often asked to show proof of binding ties to their place of residence which they have no intention of relinquishing as they try to get a visa to enter the USA.
- One (1) 2×2 photograph the specifications of which are listed on the USCIS website
- The appropriate nonimmigrant visa application processing fee and the appropriate visa issuance fee. The details of all the current fees are also available at State Department’s website under the visas section. (http://www.state.gov)
The time taken to issue a B1 or B2 Visa depends on the country and the city where the visa is being issued. Every country and city have their own visa wait times and since the US consulates around the world have done away with the ‘drop box ‘ system and require each candidate to be interviewed, the time taken to issue such a visa can range from a few weeks to even a couple of months depending on the time of the year. For instance if you want to travel to the USA during what is considered to be the peak tourist season from June to September, it is advisable to start working on acquiring your US visa at least six months in advance.