Visa Waiver Program
Citizens from specific countries can enter the U.S. as a visitor for business or pleasure for up to 90 days, without a visa. The current participating countries are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
A visitor wishing to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program must first complete an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) application via ESTA web site, after which the traveler is notified of their eligibility to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. Accompanied and unaccompanied children must also obtain an independent ESTA approval. While it is recommended that travelers apply at least 72 hours before travel to the U.S., it is possible to apply anytime prior to boarding. Each approved ESTA application will be valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. The ESTA application is currently free.
Although entering on the visa-waiver program eliminates the hassle of applying for a visitor’s visa overseas, it has limitations. A visitor entering on the visa-waiver program is not eligible to change their status to another category (such as to a student visa or one of the work visas). Instead, they must leave the U.S. and apply for the visa abroad. A visa-waiver visitor is also prohibited from extending their stay beyond 90 days. Moreover, a visa-waiver visitor wishing to apply for a green card must, in most cases, apply from a U.S. consulate abroad.