Any foreign nationals wishing to enter the US must first of all obtain some form of visa
that provides the relevant permission required from the US border control authorities.
Different types of visas
are available for different types of
reasons for travelling to the US.
Length of validity
Whilst an ESTA will be valid for two years from the date it is approved, other visas will
have different rules regarding the length that they will be granted for.
A student visa
for instance will be approved for the duration of study,
if the necessary criteria is met by the applicant. A temporary/seasonal worker visa
will usually be granted for the period of time necessary to complete the work, which typically
will be for the season where there is the demand for that type of work.
The ESTA is restricted to only allow ESTA holders to visit the US for a single
period of up to 90 days, so if a person wanted to be in the US for a longer stay than that
then they would require a different type of visa.
Whilst a new ESTA
can be applied for over and over again as one
, other types of visas have restrictions on extending the
validity. For some types of visa, additional extension increments are possible but usually
to a certain limited period.
Application process and processing times
The application process for an ESTA is comparably easier than most of the other
types of visas, as the majority of them require an appointment and interview at the US
Embassy within the visa applicant’s home country.
The application process is considerably longer than ESTA
, as an ESTA can be
processed in a matter of minutes, whilst an alternative US visa
can take months
in some cases. Different types of forms are required depending on the visa type, with the
being much shorter, as other visas require
more details to be provided to determine whether it will be approved. Other visa applications
can be many pages long and can take many hours to fill in, compared to an ESTA that can be
completed in around 10 minutes.
The application process for a working visa
involves an employer
in the US acquiring a labor certification to be approved before a visa can be applied for through
the DS-160 form
. These extra steps will take a lot longer than the more simplistic
processing of an ESTA application
for business, tourism and transit
Other visa types will often require the applicant, employer, college or other party to provide
documents as part of the requirements for the application. They also generally require evidence
that the applicant has the finances to ensure they can afford to live in the US if they are
entering the US as a student and unable to earn income in the US.
Strict rules around visa eligibility
Another key difference between an ESTA and other types of visa
is that an ESTA is
open to any occupation, whilst other visas will be specific to certain types of occupations and
skills. There are strict rules around the classifications of skilled workers for example, and
processes in place to ensure that the work could not be carried out by US workers instead.
For some visas, such as the H1-B visa
, a dependent H4 visa
for the spouse and children under 21 of the visa holder. This enables their family to join them for
their stay in the US. With an ESTA
, there are no similar linked visas, each person
travelling to the US requires their own ESTA, although a group application
submitted for up to 50 individual applicants.
Difference in application fees
The fee for an ESTA application
is also much less than the fees for other types of
visas. Most non-immigrant visas cost $160 for the application fee, whilst petition-based visas are
$190. The ESTA
fee is much less. Sometimes the US employer will pay the fee for their
potential employees, whilst an ESTA
will always be paid by the applicant
(or whoever applies on their behalf).