For many individuals, rather than going through the potentially lengthy process of applying for and obtaining a B-1/B-2 visitor visa to enter the United States, an alternative is available under the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows eligible individuals from participating countries to come to the United States without first applying for and obtaining a B-1/B-2 visitor visa. There are currently thirty-eight (38) countries designated under the Visa Waiver Program, Chile being the most recent designation beginning on March 31, 2014.
In order to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program the foreign national must (1) be entering the United States for travel purposes permitted on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa, namely business or tourism, (2) be authorized through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding his or her flight, (3) be traveling on an approved carrier and already booked return tickets leaving the United States, (4) have been in compliance with all prior admissions to the United States and not previously found ineligible for a visa, and (5) enter using a machine-readable passport that will be valid for at least six months after your scheduled departure from the United States. Other passport requirements may apply for nationals of certain countries.
While the Visa Waiver Program definitely has some advantages, namely enabling some individuals to enter the United States without first applying for and obtaining a visitor visa, there are also some disadvantages. One disadvantage is that the maximum period of stay is only ninety (90) days, rather than the six (6) months generally provided to B-1/B-2 visa holders. Another disadvantage is that by entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, a foreign national waives his or her right for review or appeal of a Customs and Border Protection officer’s decision to deny them admission to the United States. Finally, an individual who has entered the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, unlike a B-1/B-2 visa holder, cannot lawfully remain in the United States beyond the initial 90 day period authorized, except in the case of a real emergency (hospitalization or weather or mechanical conditions that cause a flight to be cancelled or delayed for more than 24 hours).
For more information on the Visa Waiver Program and a full list of participating countries, you can visit the U.S. Department of State website or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website or please call the offices of RaslanPla & Company, LLC and speak to one of our immigration attorneys.