There are many different visas available from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allow individuals from foreign countries to enter and remain in the United States lawfully. There are investor visas, student visas, employment-based visas, and more. Under some circumstances, however, you or your family members may not need a visa to lawfully enter the U.S.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows certain individuals to travel to the U.S. and remain in the country for up to 90 days without a visa. To be eligible, a person must meet the following basic criteria:
- Be a citizen of one of the 38 participating countries;
- Have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA);
- Travel must be for tourism or for business (but not for long-term employment);
- Must travel on an approved carrier, whether by air or sea;
- Have no past compliance issues or visa ineligibility; and
- Have a valid passport.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that the U.S. welcomed an estimated 20 million travelers through the VWP in 2014 alone.
At the end of 2015, however, Congress passed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which made some changes to VWP eligibility and DHS has begun to implement these changes in 2016. Specifically, the following individuals are not automatically eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program:
- Citizens of participating countries who are also nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan; or
- Citizens of participating countries who have visited Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan since March of 2011, unless the visit was for military or diplomatic purposes for a VWP country.
This does not mean that these individuals may not qualify for an exception, however, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will evaluate possible exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
If you are now ineligible for VWP travel and do not qualify for an exception, you can still seek a visa for travel to the U.S. The visa process can take some time, however. The USCIS has noted that the Consulates and Embassies are prepared to handle expedited visa applications for individuals who require emergency travel to the U.S., though there still may be complications. Anyone affected by these new VWP changes should be aware and prepared.
Contact A Qualified Immigration Lawyer For Help Today
If you want to know if you or family members are affected by the new changes to the Visa Waiver Program, you should discuss your situation with a skilled immigration attorney as soon as possible. Even you you are affected by the changes, an attorney can help plead your case for an exception or can help you obtain a visa so that you or family members can lawfully enter the United States. The Law Offices of Alex T. Barak, P.A. in Florida is committed to helping individuals and families with a wide range of immigration matters, including visas, green cards, deportation defense, and citizenship. If you need any type of assistance, please contact our office at (954) 399-7778 today.