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How to Tell If You Qualify for the Visa Waiver Program

By Keshab Raj Seadie | October 31, 2016

visa application The Visa Waiver Program, also known as the VWP, expedites short-term travel to the U.S. for certain qualifying applicants. This program significantly reduces the paperwork process and time commitment required and is designed to increase the ease and accessibility of international tourism and business travel.

Residency Requirements

If you are a national one of 36 different qualifying countries, you may be able to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without applying for a visa. However, if you have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan Syria or Yemen any time after March 1st, 2011 or are a national of any of these countries, you will not qualify for a waiver.

Travel Purposes

To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, your traveling purposes must be within the scope of a visitor visa, also known as B Visas. B-1 Visas are issued to those who would like to visit the U.S. for business purposes such as attending seminars, conventions or short-term, unpaid training events. B-2 visas are reserved for private uses such as medical purposes, tourism or participation in unpaid, amateur events or contests. If you plan to engage in any credit bearing school coursework, paid employment, or plan to stay longer than 90 days, you will not qualify for a waiver.

ESTA Authorization

If you meet all these requirements, you may be eligible to apply for a VWP through ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA will automatically determine your eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program. Before you apply, you must have a valid electronic passport and must not currently possess a Visitor’s Visa. Once you are approved through ESTA, you remain eligible for the VWP program for up to two years or until your passport expires, whichever event occurs first. During this time period, you are also able to take advantage of travel without a visa as many times as you would like, as long as your travel activities fall within approved purposes and your stays remain within the 90 day time limit.