Articles Posted in Visa Waiver Program

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You have questions, we have your answers. Here are answers to 6 of your Frequently Asked Questions.

In this blog, we are answering 6 of your frequently asked questions in detail. Please remember that every case and every story is different and unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance on your immigration journey. For any further questions please visit our website or call our office for a free first time legal consultation. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office.

Q: Should I hire an attorney to file my green card application and go with me to the green card interview?

This will largely depend on the complexity of your individual case. For example, there are individuals that are eligible to adjust their status to permanent residence based on their marriage to a U.S. Citizen or based on a qualifying family relationship, but may be applying for permanent residence under special circumstances such as 245i or another special immigrant classification such as VAWA.

Still other individuals may be applying for their green card for a second time after being denied.

Individuals who are applying for their green card under one of these special immigrant classifications should absolutely seek the assistance of an immigration attorney to apply for permanent residence to avoid any mistakes in filing and to be well prepared for the green card interview. In these situations, any minor mistakes on the paperwork can result in major delays, or worse—require refiling the green card application altogether. In addition, for complex cases it is always important for an attorney to prepare the foreign national for the most vital part of the green card application which is the green card interview. An attorney’s presence at the green card interview is also important to ensure that the foreign national’s rights are not violated by the immigration officer.

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As previously reported, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015, was a bill that was signed into law at the end of 2015, which imposed new restrictions on the use of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for certain travelers. In this post, we update our readers regarding new information provided by CBP in their newly updated FAQ page.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of designated countries to apply for admission to the United States as visitors (traveling for holiday, business, or in transit) without having to obtain a non-immigrant B1/B2 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, using a system known as ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

To be eligible to travel to the United States under the visa waiver program, you must be a citizen of one of thirty-eight countries eligible to participate in the program, you must have a valid machine-readable passport issued by the participating country that is valid for at least 6 months before your planned departure, you must apply for and have an approved ESTA before your proposed travel, and you must intend to remain in the United States for 90 days or less.

You may not be eligible to travel under the VWP if you have been denied a U.S. visa in the past, or have an immigration violation. In this case, you must apply for a visitor visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, even if your country participates in the VWP.

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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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Earlier this week, in a 407-19 vote the House of Representatives successfully passed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, a bill that seeks to increase restrictions for travelers coming to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, a program which currently allows citizens from 38 designated countries to travel to the United States without a visa. In order to become law the bill must also pass through the Senate. The bill was introduced following President Barack Obama’s address to the nation, in which he confronted the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

In his address, President Obama pledged to work closely with the Department of State and Homeland Security to revise the visa waiver program, under which one of the San Bernardino assailants traveled to the United States. The Problem? The President misspoke—the assailant traveled to the United States with a K-1 fiancé visa and not through the visa waiver program. Instead Obama meant to say that he would work with the DOS and DHS to revise the visa program in general. In light of this innocent mistake, the House continued its support to tighten the visa waiver program, despite the fact that no evidence has been presented suggesting that terrorists and/or their radicalized accomplices have traveled to the United States using this program. This would mean that the government is concerned that terrorists, disguised as refugees, may travel from Syria and surrounding countries, into Europe and in the process acquire European citizenship making it easy for them to travel to the United States through the visa waiver program. The government may also be concerned that ISIL is radicalizing and recruiting European citizens of middle eastern descent to their cause.

As it stands there are no middle eastern countries participating in the visa waiver program. The majority of the countries eligible to participate are from Western Europe with few exceptions including Chile, Taiwan, Australia etc. Individuals who have applied for a United States visa but have been denied, are not eligible to travel to the United States under the visa waiver program, even if their country participates in the program. Such individuals must apply for the appropriate visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad in order to travel to the United States. Critics allege that as a result of such legislation, consular officials and CBP agents will inevitably profile visa waiver travelers.

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