The US Visa Waiver Program: Who Qualifies?

Are you planning to enter the United States to visit family, meet with business partners, or catch a flight to another country? If you’re staying for under three months, you may qualify for the US Visa Waiver Program. The program allows you to enter the country without the need for a visa application. Your eligibility will depend on your country of citizenship and a number of other factors. Here’s what you need to know.


The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) provides temporary entry to the United States for either one of two reasons: tourism or business. Generally, a VWP traveler may also transit through the US to reach Canada or Mexico. Anyone who wants to travel under the program must be a national of a participating country, stay for 90 days or less, and meet certain eligibility requirements. You may not extend your stay for any reason.


Wondering if your purpose qualifies for entry under the VWP? Here are a few examples. If you are temporarily entering the United States on business, your purpose might be to attend a conference, consult with your associates, or negotiate a contract. If you’re visiting for “tourism” purposes, you might be on vacation, visiting relatives, participating in a social event or contest, or even getting medical treatment. You may not use the VWP to study for credit towards a degree, find employment, or work as a foreign member of the media.

Designated Countries

The waiver program is open to most nationals or citizens of the 38 participating countries. If your country is on the list and you also happen to be a national of Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan, you are currently ineligible to travel under the program. Additionally, if you have been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen since March 1, 2011, you cannot travel under the VWP even if you belong to one of the participating countries (with very few exceptions). These rules are held in place for anti-terrorism purposes, but restricted people may still apply for visas through the usual process.

ESTA Approval

Before you can travel using the waiver program, you must be approved by the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before you board an aircraft or sea carrier that’s bound for the United States. As an automated web-based system, it’s used by Customs and Border Protection officers to make sure you are eligible to enter the US without a visa. The system will ask you to provide information about yourself, including questions related to basic VWP eligibility. You should apply through ESTA as soon as you start to prepare your travel plans.


You must meet a few other criteria before you can travel. For one, you need a passport that will stay valid for at least 6 months after you plan to depart from the US. You also need an e-Passport, which uses an electronic chip to enhance security. If you are entering the US with an emergency or temporary passport, no matter the purpose, it must be an e-Passport.

Although the VWP process is relatively simple, it’s normal to have questions and concerns about your eligibility. Whether you need clarification about the program or you’d like to apply for a visa instead, you should get in touch with a competent immigration attorney. Call Sánchez-Roig Law Firm, P.A. for the most dependable immigration advice. We would be happy to explain everything you need to know about eligibility, the application process, and more in easy-to-understand terms.