The Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program which was instituted in 1986 to facilitate travel between the US and certain countries allows the citizens of the 36 countries listed below to travel to the USA for tourism or business for stays less than 90 days without a visa. 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. For more info on ESTA, visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
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, Greece and New Zealand
ESTA can be used for multiple reconnaissance visits if you are a citizen of one of these 36 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 or an onward 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. You must go back to your home country should you desire to change the status in order to go to school or work. You are not allowed to extend your stay longer than 90 days.
If you are not a citizen of 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 up to 1 year.
Documents required for the application of a Non-immigrant (B1) or a Business Visa (B2):
1. DS-160 Online Application Form. All non-immigrant visas must be submitted electronically. The only exceptions to this are individuals applying for K Visas (K-1 – Fiancé(e) of a US citizen, K-2 –
child of a K-1, K-3 – Spouse of US citizen, K-4 – Child of a K-3), who are required to submit DS-156 as well as DS-156K. If required, these individuals must also submit a Supplemental Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 and DS-158.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. One (1) 2×2 photograph the specifications of which are listed on the USCIS website. http://travel.state.gov/visa/visaphotoreq/digitalimagereq/digitalimagereq_5327.html
5. The appropriate non-immigrant 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.
All the forms can be downloaded from U.S. Department of State website; http://travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_1342.html
Waiting time can vary. Visit the US Department of State website to check the waiting time at your home country embassy. http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html