The Visa Waiver Program is an initiative created in 1986 to increase security between America and its Allies. The visa waiver program enables qualifying citizens from certain partner countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes and stay for up to 90 days without the need to acquire a visa. In return, all partner nations in the visa waiver program must allow U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar period for similar reasons.
Individuals seeking to acquire permission to travel under the visa waiver program are still subjected to some scrutiny. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security states that it utilizes a risk-based, multi-layered approach to detect and prevent terrorism, criminal activity, or the travel of bad faith actors to the United States.
This analysis includes scrutinizing the risks of each partner nation participating in the visa waiver program and vetting individual visa waiver travelers. Individuals traveling to the U.S. under the visa waiver program are vetted prior to departing, upon arrival at a port of entry, and during subsequent air travel within the United States.
40 nations are participating in the visa waiver program. The partner nations that are part of the visa waiver program are:
The State Department posted a disclaimer alongside this list stating that Taiwan is not being explicitly endorsed as a country. Regardless, all member nations are allowed to apply for a waiver to come to the U.S. for reasons of either business or tourism.
The State Department explicitly outlines what qualifies as a business activity under the visa waiver program versus something requiring a visa to be admitted. A waiver recipient may conduct business by consulting with associates, attending a convention or conference, attending short-term training, or negotiating a contract. While staying without a visa, the waiver recipient may not be paid by any U.S. source. An exception to this rule is paying for expenses that are incidental to the recipient's visit, such as lodging or meals. Waiver recipients who are traveling for business are explicitly forbidden from pursuing employment without a visa. Similarly prohibited are waiver recipients traveling to the U.S. to work as a member of the foreign press, radio, film, journalism, or other information media.
Waiver recipients traveling for tourism are granted broad permission to engage in many recreational activities. For example, waiver recipients traveling for tourism may come to the U.S. for a vacation, to visit friends or relatives in the country, to receive medical treatment, to participate in a social event hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations, to participate in amateur activities such as music, sports, or contests, or enrollment in a short recreational class. However, about the use of a visa waiver for a class, the State Department does explicitly state that the recipient cannot receive any kind of credit for the course as that would require a student visa.
If you are seeking a visa waiver, and you want to ensure that you are remaining within the bounds of the waiver, you will need the help of an experienced Immigration Law attorney. An Immigration Law attorney will be able to advise you and advocate on your behalf in order to get you the best possible outcome for your case.
Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Immigration Law attorney can explore your options with you as well as present your case in the most compelling light possible and deftly navigate the complex processes of immigration bureaucracy as well as the obscure functions of immigration court.