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Are you confused over VWP and need to know more? Well you’ve come to the right page!

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (or VWP) is a program of the United States Government which allows you (or citizens of 38 specific countries) to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The Visa Waiver Program was administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the State Department. Travellers, within the VWP, must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to travel to the USA.

Who is eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

To apply for the Visa Waiver Program you must be a citizen or national of one of the following VWP designated countries:

Andorra Hungary Norway
Australia Iceland Portugal
Austria Ireland San Marino
Belgium Italy Singapore
Brunei Japan Slovakia
Chile Latvia Slovenia
Czech Republic Liechtenstein South Korea
Denmark Lithuania Spain
Estonia Luxembourg Sweden
Finland Malta Switzerland
France Monaco Taiwan
Germany Netherlands United Kingdom
Greece New Zealand


(To be eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program, British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).

If you are travelling to the USA without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program then you will need to gain authorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before you fly. This is web-based system which is operated by the U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and determines if you are eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program to the USA for tourism or business. Once you have applied for an ESTA, this will usually be valid for 2 years.

Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travellers must obtain a visa prior to travelling to the USA if they are no longer eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program due to being in one of the following two categories:

  • Nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries (as listed in table above) who have travelled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, on or after March 1st 2011. This has limited exceptions for travel for diplomacy or military purposes in the service of a VWP country.
  • Nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.

Individuals who fall into one of the two categories above can apply for visas using regular appointment processes at the U.S Embassy or Consulate. If anyone requires a visa for urgent travel to the USA, the U.S embassies and Consulates handle these applications quicker on a case-by-case basis.

If you are travelling to the USA check:

  • You are a member of the Visa Waiver Program
  • You have applied for an ESTA

Passport

When travelling to the USA you need to have the correct passport. This includes all family members, like infants and children who must have his/her own passport. You must have a biometric passport, or e-Passport, to use the Visa Waiver Program. An e-Passport is an enhanced secure passport that has an embedded electronic chip.

This chip can be scanned to match the identity of the traveller of the passport. E-Passports must be in compliance with standards that are set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and can be identified by a chip-like symbol on the front cover of the passport.

Countries that are part of the VWP

A country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program has met several requirements to be considered for designation into the program. These requirements include (but are not limited to):

  • enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the USA;
  • having a visitor (B) visa refusal rate of less than three percent;
  • timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports; and
  • maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.

How long does it take to get a visa waiver to be approved?

A Visa Waiver or ESTA application can be approved very quickly (literally in a matter of minutes), though it is advisable to make an application at least 72 hours before travelling to the USA. The U.S Customs and Border Protection advise that a pending application can take up to 3 days, as additional screening may be required to ensure you do not pose a security or immigration risk.

Do you need an ESTA to travel to the USA?

If you are a citizen of a VWP (Visa Waiver Program) country and you are travelling to the USA by land then an ESTA is not needed. If you are travelling to the USA by air or sea though, you do. If you are not a citizen of a VWP country, you are required to have a visa. This would then mean that ESTA wouldn't apply for you.

Do I need a visa to visit USA from UK?

Most passport holders can apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) through the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) which allows travel to the USA for up to 90 days. You will generally qualify to enter the USA using the VWP if your British passport describes you as a ‘British Citizen’ or has a recognised e-Passport electronic chip.

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