Visa Waiver Program

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The US Visa Waiver Program is a state-run program of the US government that helps the citizens and nationals from the member countries to enter the territory of the United States without the necessity of obtaining a visa. A traveler who is willing to visit the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may stay in the country for 90 days or less. The main purpose of the American Embassy Visa Waiver Program is to enable travelers, who wish to visit the United States for a short period of time, to enter the country on an urgent basis and without the need to obtaining a visa. Instead, all the US visitors under the Visa Waiver Program have to obtain the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval.


Purpose of visit for Waiver Program travelers

The following are the examples of activities permitted on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):


US Visa Waiver Program

  • holiday or vacation,
  • visiting friends or family,
  • taking a short hobby course which cannot be related to obtaining a degree,
  • health services,
  • participating in social events like concerts, festivals, competitions, etc. only if the traveler is not getting paid for performing.


ESTA program

  • conducting consultations with business partners, negotiating a contract,
  • attending short-term workshop/training with no purpose of earning money,
  • attending a scientific, learning, specialized, or business conference.


However, your application may be rejected if you intend to visit the US under the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) with the following purposes:
  • studying with the intention to obtain a degree,
  • working for foreign media (press, radio, TV, movies, etc.),
  • employment,
  • staying in the US for more than 90 days.

If you want to visit the United States with one of the above-mentioned purposes, you should not request ESTA Program authorization but apply for one of the several types of the US visas.

How can a country become a member of the US Visa Waiver Program?

Full list of states which participate in Program is on our webpage. A country that intends to participate in the American Embassy Visa Waiver Program must meet several important conditions and requirements.

The conditions and requirements to the Visa Waiver Program country include, but are not restricted to:

  • the refusal rate of a visitor visa (B1 and B2) less than three percent,
  • the ability to issue  biometric passports (e-passports),
  • highly effective law enforcement and safety-relevant file sharing with the US authorities,
  • on-time reporting of stolen or lost passports blanks or issued documents,
  • implementation and maintaining of high standards in the areas like document security, law enforcement, border control, and counterterrorism.
However, meeting the conditions and requirements of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) does not guarantee that a country will become a member of the Program. Only the US government is able to make a country a Designation of the Waiver Program.

US Visa Waiver Program amendments

According to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, the following travelers cannot enter the territory of the US under the ESTA Program:

  • Citizens of the American Embassy Visa Waiver Program countries who also happen to be nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria. These travelers are still able to visit the US, but they will need to go through a standard appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and obtain a visa.
  • Citizens of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries who visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on March 1, 2011, or after, with the exception of the travelers with diplomatic or military purposes.

If a traveler is unable to gain ESTA Program authorization due to his or her diplomatic or military mission in one of the above-mentioned countries, he or she should contact the CBP information Center for more detailed information and advice.

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