Visa Waiver Issues

by J Craig Fong, Immigration Attorney

Fong & Aquino often gets immigration law questions at our offices in Pasadena about the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); even though the program seems simple, it can cause serious problems for some visitors.

VWP allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or permitted business purposes for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. VWP was created in 1986 in order to eliminate excessive barriers to travel, to stimulate the tourism and business, and to relieve US Embassies and Consulates of some of the work of visa issuance. VWP-eligible travelers are allowed to apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so.

If you choose to apply for a regular B-1/B-2 Visitor visa, you should know that many US Consulates in VWP countries are suspicious of B-1/B-2 applicants, because it is thought that few travelers truly need to remain in the USA for more than the 90 days permitted under the VWP. Be prepared to be questioned about your purpose in coming to the USA, your work, your resources, and more.

Not all countries participate in the VWP. Only the following countries are eligible for the VWP.

Visa Waiver Countries (as of 16 February 2009)

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

Some VWP Travelers May STILL Have Problems Entering

Even if you are a citizen of a VWP country, you should consult with experienced immigration counsel if any of the following apply to you:

  • you have ever overstayed in the USA
  • you have ever been removed or deported from the USA
  • you have ever been refused admission to the USA
  • you have ever been refused a visa to enter the USA
  • you have ever, anywhere been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude
  • you have ever, anywhere been convicted of a crime involving any controlled substance
  • you have ever, anywhere received a 'caution' from law enforcement

VWP Travelers Must Register under ESTA Before Traveling to the USA

Even if you are a citizen of a VWP country, VWP travelers are required to apply for authorization though the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), are screened at their port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.

If you have any questions about your eligibility to use the Visa Waiver Program, please contact Fong & Aquino at 626.577.8020 or

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