Visa-Free Travel to the US Under the Visa Waiver Program Explained

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986 with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to united travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so.

Currently, 27 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown below:

  1. Andorra
  2. Australia
  3. Austria
  4. Belgium
  5. Brunei
  6. Denmark
  7. Finland
  8. France
  9. Germany
  10. Iceland
  11. Ireland
  12. Italy
  13. Japan
  14. Liechtenstein
  15. Luxembourg
  16. Monaco
  17. Netherlands
  18. New Zealand
  19. Norway
  20. Portugal
  21. San Marino
  22. Singapore
  23. Slovenia
  24. Spain
  25. Sweden
  26. Switzerland
  27. United Kingdom

The Department of Homeland Security recently signed the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Malta, and Korea government representatives.

These MOU’s do not admit these countries into the Visa Waiver Program; they are agreements for further cooperation on the security provisions that are required under the new VWP law. They are only a first step in working out details for the entire array of security and information sharing commitments found in VWP law.

Nationals of VWP countries must meet the conditions noted in the section above in order to seek admission to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Travelers who do not meet these conditions must apply for a visa. In particular, a visa must be requested if the traveler:

* Wants to remain in the United States for longer than 90 days, or envisions that they may wish to change their status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the United States;

* Wants to work or study in the United States, wants to come to the United States for other purposes not allowed on a visitor visa, or intends to immigrate to the United States;

* Does not have a machine-readable passport (MRP) issued or renewed/extended before 10/26/05, or is unable to meet other requirements outlined above for passports issued on or after October 26, 2005 or October 26, 2006.

* Intends to travel by private aircraft or other non-signatory air or sea carriers to the United States;

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