What is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
is a program administered by the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) which allows citizens of specific countries (to see the complete list of countries,
) to travel to the US under certain conditions without the need to obtain a visa.
The program applies to the United States mainland and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico
and the U.S.Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, with limited application to other
US territories. The VWP also allows US citizens and nationals to travel to the 38
countries for a similar length of time for business or pleasure purposes without the
need for a visa.
Since it was created in 1986, the VWP has grown into a robust security partnership
for the USA and its close allies. The VWP uses a risk-based, multi-layered approach
to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other listed persons from
travelling to the United States.
National risk assessments are conducted before a country is allowed to become part of
the VWP. In addition, individual VWP travellers must be vetted before they depart for
the US, upon arrival at US ports of entry, and during any subsequent air travel
within the US.
Who is Eligible to Apply for the Visa Waiver Program?
As well as improving travel security, the VWP promotes economic vibrance and growth
in the USA and in countries accepted into the VWP and helps to make travel easier.
You are eligible to apply for admission under the VWP if you:
- Intend to enter the United States for 90 days or less for business, pleasure, or
- Have a valid passport that has been issued to you by a VWP country
- Have the authorization to travel under ESTA
- Arrive via a VWP signatory carrier
- Have a return or onward ticket
- Are a citizen or national of one of the VWP countries?
- Establish to the satisfaction of the inspecting United States Customs and Border
Protection officer that you are entitled to be admitted under the Visa Waiver Program
and that you are not inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
- Waive any rights to review or appeal of the admissibility determination of the
United States Customs and Border Protection officer, or contest, other than on the
basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application
for admission under the Visa Waiver Program.
- Reaffirm, through the submission of biometric identifiers (including fingerprints
and photographs) during processing upon arrival in the United States, your waiver of
any rights to review or appeal of the admissibility determination of the United
States Customs and Border Protection officer, or contest, other than on the basis of
an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for
admission under the Visa Waiver Program.
- Obtain an Authorization Approved determination following a
travel authorization application.
- Do not pose a threat to the welfare, health, safety, or security of the United
- Have complied with all conditions of any previous admission under the
Visa Waiver Program.
Be aware that travel may not terminate in contiguous territory or adjacent islands
unless the traveler is a resident of one of those areas.
The Implication of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 on the Visa Waiver
After the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 was signed, some travelers were no
longer eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program. These categories of
- Any National of the Visa Waiver Program who have traveled to or was present in
Iran, Iraq, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, or
Syria on or after March 1, 2011. The only exceptions are those who travel for
military or diplomatic purposes in the service of a Visa Waiver Program country.
- Any nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries who are also holding nationality
or citizenship of any of these countries: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,
Sudan, Iran, Iraq, or Syria.
Any traveller in these categories is no longer eligible to travel under the VWP. As a
result, they must obtain a valid visa before they can be allowed entry into the
United States because they are no longer. They can apply for a visa through the
normal application process at a US Consulate or Embassy.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Visa Waiver Program
Can I Apply for a Visa Instead of Using the Visa Waiver Program?
Yes. Even if you are eligible for the VWP, you can choose to apply for a visitor (B)
visa if you prefer to go through that route. There are several reasons why you may
choose to apply for a visa even when you are eligible for a VWP. One reason could be
that you intend to stay longer than 90 days in the US. Also, if you plan to travel
via a private aircraft or other non-approved VWP means, you will need to apply for a
Can I extend my stay with the VWP?
No. If you enter the US through the VWP, you cannot extend your stay beyond the
initial admission period. To prevent any consequences such as future denial of your
application, you must depart the US on or before the departure date on your admission
What makes a country qualified for the Visa Waiver Program?
Before a country can join the VWP, it must meet specific requirements. Some of these
- Have a visitor (B) visa refusal rate of less than three percent.
- Offer a reciprocal privilege to US citizens.
- Issue e-passports (a machine-readable and electronic passport that has a
- Enhanced security-related data and law enforcement data sharing with the US.
- Timely reporting of issues lost and stolen passports.
- Maintenance of law enforcement, high counterterrorism, document security, and
border control standards.