US Visa Waiver Program: Eligibilty and Process

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US Visa Waiver Program: Eligibilty and Process

It is a well known fact that it is impossible to travel and stay abroad without getting a visa approved by the immigration authorities. However, very few people know that the US administration allows certain business visitors and tourists to travel and stay in the United States without a visa for a specified period of time.

It is important to know that all travellers don’t require a visa number to visit the U.S. With a view to strengthen commercial ties between various nations, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs coordinates the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), that allows the visitors from the participating countries with pure intent of business and/or tourism, to travel and stay in the US for 90 days without a non-immigrant visa.

This article will help you dive deep into the details of the Visa Waiver Program and how to apply for this program.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is an initiative run by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that provides exemption on visas to the visitors from the VWP member nations.

Under the Visa Waiver Program, foreign visitors from 41 member countries can fly to the United States and stay there for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa.

Which Country Manages the Visa Waiver Program?

The United States of America runs in the Visa Waiver Program and permits the business visitors and tourists from the VWP member nations to travel to the U.S. for 90 days without a visa.

These business visitors and tourists are considered temporary visitors and nonimmigrants by the U.S. immigration authorities. Hence, they don’t need to obtain a visa to travel to the US under the VWP. The US immigration authorities allow a foreign visitor to stay in the US without a visa unless they intend to but are not allowed to permanently work and stay there.

Why is the Visa Waiver Program important?

The principal motive of the VWP is to strengthen trade & commerce relations among all the member nations, and to boost the US travel & tourism sector.

The Visa Waiver Program is a mutual travel consent programme that the US Department of State runs in a bid to boost global trade.

The 41 member nations, in return, must allow visa-free entry to the U.S. nationals into their territory for a similar length of time, i.e. 90 days for business as well as tourism motives.

Which Countries are Eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

Given below is the list of 41 member countries which are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program:

  1. Australia
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Netherlands
  4. New Zealand
  5. Norway
  6. Austria
  7. Andorra
  8. Finland
  9. Hungary
  10. Iceland
  11. Brunei
  12. Chile
  13. Croatia
  14. Czech Republic
  15. Japan
  16. Monaco
  17. France
  18. Belgium
  19. Ireland
  20. Denmark
  21. Latvia
  22. Lithuania
  23. Luxembourg
  24. Sweden
  25. Switzerland
  26. Estonia
  27. Germany
  28. Greece
  29. Italy
  30. Singapore
  31. Liechtenstein
  32. Slovakia
  33. Slovenia
  34. South Korea
  35. Spain
  36. Poland
  37. Portugal
  38. Malta
  39. Taiwan
  40. San Marino

Source: U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs

What is the Eligibility Criteria for the Visa Waiver Program?

To be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program and travel to the US visa-free, your intent of business travel or tourism must be clear to the US immigration authorities.

Following are the admissible business and tourism activities under the Visa Waiver Program:

Business:

  • Business consultation with associates
  • Business convention or conference
  • Scientific, educational, or a professional seminar
  • A short-term internship programme (where you may not be remunerated anyway while working in the US, except for the expenses related to your stay)
  • Negotiating a business contract

Tourism:

  • A vacation trip (i.e. holiday tour)
  • Leisurely visit to the US with friends or family
  • Medical treatment
  • Participating in the events of social causes held by not-for-profit organisations.
  • Visiting musical concerts, sport events (matches etc.), not being paid for such participation.
  • enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation).

Who is Not Eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

Any individual whose purpose of the US travel is not admissible as per the Visa Waiver Program, shall not be eligible for the VWP. This includes the following activities –

  • Student enrolled in a degree programme
  • Foreign expat for employment
  • Journalist in a foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media
  • Permanent resident of the United States.
  • Besides, a visitor coming from a Non-VWP country is not eligible to apply for the Visa Waiver Program.

What type of Passport do you need for qualifying a US visa waiver interview?

You must possess an electronic passport to avail the VWP. An e-passport has an electronic chip embedded on it, which ensures enhanced security. The chip can be scanned to match the identity of the traveller to the passport. E-Passports must be in compliance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Besides, you must possess a passport, which is valid till at least 6 months from the day of your planned departure from the United States.

What to do if I am Not Eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

If you are ineligible to apply for the US visa waiver program, you must apply for the non-immigrant (B-1 or B-2) visa.

Besides, if your intended plan of stay is longer than 90 days, then you need to apply for the non-immigrant visa. You also need the visa if you have planned to travel on a private or chartered jet or any other air or sea carrier not approved under VWP.

What are the Requirements for a Country to be a VWP Nation?

Here are the basic requirements for a country to qualify for the designation of a member of the Visa Waiver Program:

  • Issuance of biometric electronic passports to the citizens.
  • Concrete law against terrorism and regular sharing of security-related data with the US Department of State.
  • Proper ecosystem and legislation for high counterterrorism, border security, and standardised document security.
  • Rate of refusal for visitor (B-1/2) visa should be below 3%.
  • Quick Mechanism for reporting of lost and stolen passports (both blank and issued).

Above mentioned are the basic criteria for being a member of the Designation as a VWP. Despite fulfilling all the criteria the decision to grant VWP membership to a country is at the sole discretion of the U.S. government.

The complete eligibility criteria is not limited to the objective requirements of the VWP list above. Hence, meeting the above requirements shall not guarantee any nation the VWP designation thereupon.

However, the Government of India is taking measures to fulfil the criteria for VWP designation. Recently, the government has decided to launch e-passport for ordinary citizens.

How can I get the US Visa Waiver Program Benefit?

If you are a citizen of a VWP nation, you must get authorization to travel to the US without the visa through a platform known as Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). You need to get the ESTA authorization before boarding a U.S. bound flight or sea voyage.

ESTA is an online platform owned and operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It assesses the eligibility of the traveller as the VWP criteria to enter a port of entry in the United States for business or tourism.

So, this is all you need to know about the visa waiver program. Even if you are eligible to travel to the US visa-free, you need to be financially secure while you travel abroad.

Get the Best Travel Insurance for Complete Travel Safety!

International travel insurance is a must before you plan your journey abroad. USA travel insurance plan covers your trip against unforeseen events such as loss of the travel baggage and documents such as visa and passport.

If, by chance you lose your passport and/or other travel documents while on the go, you can easily access the Care Assistance Provider in India for gaining access to the Consulate or Embassy of the destination country.

Disclaimer: All plan features, benefits, coverage, and claims underwriting are subject to policy terms and conditions. Kindly refer to the brochure, sales prospectus, and policy documents carefully.

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FAQs

Q. Can India Become a VWP Member Nation?

Yes, India can become a member of VWP if it meets certain requirements for the same.

Q. Can Indian Visitors fly to the US without a Visa?

Since India is not a member country of the Visa Waiver Program, Indian travellers do not qualify for the Visa Waiver. Hence, Indian visitors are not allowed to travel to the US visa-free.


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