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U.S. Revises Visa Waiver Program Requirements (ESTA)

February 4, 2016

On January 21, 2016, the U.S. implemented a long expected change to the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits visitors of certain countries to enter the U.S. without having to first obtain a B-1/B-2 visitor visa at a U.S. consular post abroad. Currently, 38 countries participate in the program. A listing of the countries may be located here.

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the U.S. under the VWP:

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Sudan, Iraq or Syria.

These individuals will still be permitted to use the regular immigration process at embassies or consulates worldwide. For those in need of urgent medical, humanitarian or business travel to the U.S. embassies and consulates have been instructed to process applications on an expedited basis.

Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) will be revoked for travelers who previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four identified countries. The Secretary of Homeland Security may reject certain waivers on these restrictions if it is in the interest of law enforcement or national security of the USA.

It is important to note that this new law doesn't ban travel or admission to the U.S. and the majority of travelers using the VWP program further will not be affected by this legislation. The U.S. Department of State is expected to issue an updated ESTA application with additional questions in this month. Current ESTA holders may check their ESTA status prior to planned travel on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at: esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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