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Articles Posted in ESTA

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Our San Diego immigration attorneys at the Sapochnick Law Firm stand ready to assist foreign nationals admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID 19), the United States has taken several measures to close its borders and ground international flights to keep the public safe. This means that at least some foreign nationals admitted under the VWP have been unable to depart before their periods of admission expired under the VWP. As you may be aware, the VWP allows citizens or nationals of certain participating countries the ability to travel to the United States for a temporary period of 90 days or less without having to obtain a United States visa. One of the downsides to the VWP is that no extensions of stay are allowed.

Thankfully, a little-known provision in the law known as “Satisfactory Departure” provides relief to VWP aliens who have found themselves “stuck” in the United States.


What is Satisfactory Departure? How does it help me?


VWP entrants who were unable to depart the United States, before their period of admission expired, due to the ongoing Coronavirus travel restrictions, may request “Satisfactory Departure,” from either their local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office or from a Deferred Inspection Site with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

These agencies have been authorized to grant these individuals a period of up to 30 days (in excess of the period of VWP admission) in which to depart the United States. As long as the traveler leaves within that 30-day window, he or she will not be considered to have violated U.S. immigration laws by overstaying.

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On January 21, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act would begin to be implemented. As a result of the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino county and abroad, Congress passed the Act in an effort to protect Americans from potential attacks and to secure the border. The Act increases travel restrictions for certain nationals seeking admission to the United States via the Visa Waiver Program.

Presently, the Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from 38 designated countries to travel and seek admission to the United States without a visa, for a maximum duration of 90 days. Visa Waiver Program travelers must have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before travel.

As of January 21, nationals of visa waiver participating countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 will no longer be eligible to travel or seek admission to the United States under the visa waiver program.  Nationals from visa waiver participating countries who maintain dual nationality with any of the aforementioned countries, are also excluded from traveling or seeking admission to the United States under the visa waiver program. Instead, these individuals must apply for a tourist visa at a United States Consulate or Embassy abroad before seeking admission to the United States. Part of this process will require a nonimmigrant interview to be conducted, before issuance of a tourist visa. DHS expects that this new legislation will not adversely impact visa waiver program travelers, since the Act does not ban these individuals from traveling to the United States, rather it removes the privilege of traveling under the visa waiver program, and requires these individuals to apply for a tourist visa.

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Do’s and Don’ts

If you are considering applying for a temporary visitor visa to travel to the United States for purposes of leisure or to receive temporary medical treatment, there are several things you should be aware of. First, you should understand what you can do while on a temporary visitor visa and what you cannot do. You may travel to the United States on a visitor visa if your visit will be temporary. The proposed visit must be either for recreational purposes such as to visit your friends and relatives in the United States, receive medical treatment, attend a short course of study related to the nature of your trip, or to engage in activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature. You may not enroll in a course of study that exceeds your authorized duration of stay of is unrelated to the nature of your trip, and you may not seek employment during your stay. If approved, a visitor visa is generally authorized for a 6-month period which may be extended for an additional 6 months by filing Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

Does your country participate in the visa waiver program?

Before applying for a visitor visa , you should verify whether you are a citizen of a country that participates in the visa waiver program. Presently 38 countries participate in the visa waiver program, as shown below.

Andorra Hungary Norway
Australia Iceland Portugal
Austria Ireland San Marino
Belgium Italy Singapore
Brunei Japan Slovakia
Chile Latvia Slovenia
Czech Republic Liechtenstein South Korea
Denmark Lithuania Spain
Estonia Luxembourg Sweden
Finland Malta Switzerland
France Monaco Taiwan
Germany the Netherlands United Kingdom
Greece New Zealand

If your country of citizenship participates in the visa waiver program, you may not need to apply for a tourist visa at a US Consulate or Embassy abroad. If you have been previously denied a United States visa, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will automatically deny your ESTA submission and you will not be eligible to travel under the VWP even if your country participates in the program. Note: The House of Representatives and the Senate is presently in talks to approve a bill that will block individuals who have traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan during the last 5 years from using the visa waiver program.

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