Citizens of the U.K. and 35 other nations who meet certain conditions can travel to the United States under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, allowing them to skip the expensive and time-consuming process of applying for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The Visa Waiver Program enables eligible persons to go to the United States for up to 90 days for the purpose of tourism or business, and only requires the individual to register ahead of time online through the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (which involves a $14 fee, as compared to the $140 it costs to apply for an actual visa). The Visa Waiver Program undoubtedly makes travel to the U.S. easier, but entails potential pitfalls of which travelers should be aware. This article sheds light on four things that commonly derail attempted trips to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.
Four Common Visa Waiver Program Trip-Killers
- Prior visa denials. Persons who have applied for a U.S. visa and been denied should not attempt to travel under the Visa Waiver Program. Instead, they should apply for a tourist/business visa (a B-1/B-2 visa) at a U.S. embassy or consulate near them, a process that entails filling out an online application, paying a fee and traveling to the embassy or consulate for a short interview. Persons who have been denied a U.S. visa and who attempt to travel to the U.S. anyway, without an actual visa, may be denied boarding at the airport, or may even be denied entry to the United States once they arrive – this means being put on a plane back to the country from which they came, at the individual’s own expense.
- Inadmissibilities. Individuals who have at any time been deemed inadmissible under U.S. immigration law, or who have committed any act that could conceivably make them inadmissible, should not attempt to travel under the Visa Waive Program – they should apply for a visa. U.S. immigration law sets forth categories of persons who cannot enter the country without an immigration waiver (often referred to as an I-601 waiver), where available; a U.S. immigration lawyer can give specifics regarding who might fall within the ambit of the various inadmissibility categories. Suffice it to say that anyone with a criminal record or previous U.S. immigration law violations should apply for a visa.
- No onward travel planned. The Visa Waiver Program guidelines require that persons entering under the program have concrete onward travel plans, including an actual plane, train or ship ticket to another country to which the person will travel after their time in the United States. This often trips up persons who intend to travel to the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program and then on to either Mexico or Canada, but who have not arranged all the travel plans in advance. This approach risks subjecting the traveler to denial of entry at the U.S. border.
- Working in the U.S. Persons who show up at the U.S. border, attempting to enter under the Visa Waiver Program, will be denied entry if the immigration authorities believe the individual intends to work while in the United States. It is permissible to carry out business activities under the Visa Waiver Program, such as negotiating deals and the like, but actually being gainfully employed and having a job while in the U.S. requires a work visa. It is worth noting that journalists and media representatives cannot perform these duties in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program – they must obtain an “I” visa for media and journalists.
The author, Brad Menzer, blogs for the law firm Heartland Immigration. To learn more about U.S. immigration law issues, contact a Dallas immigration lawyer with Heartland Immigration.