Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Visa Waiver Program’

15th May 2016

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that those attempting to travel to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program may find themselves being denied  admission to the USA due to the fact they do not have a biometric passport (also known as an electronic passport or an e-passport). A recent posting on the official website of the United States Customs and Border Protection service notes that as of April 1, 2016 those traveling to the USA without a biometrically encoded electronic passport will be denied entry to the United States.

In most countries, electronic passports have been in wide use for some time, but some older travel documents and those issued by certain countries may not have the biometric chip. Therefore, one should look at one’s passport and use the link above to decipher whether or not one’s passport has biometric encoding and therefore complies with recently issued rules and regulations.

It should be noted that the visa waiver program requires that most travelers traveling to the USA on a waiver utilize the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (or ESTA) before they travel to the USA. In a way ESTA is a sort of pre-travel authorization although not a visa per se.

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14th May 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that some have criticized the current process associated with adjudication and issuance of United States visas. Notably, it would seem that this criticism is mostly concerned with non-immigrant visas such as the B-2 visa (US tourist visa) and the B-1 visa (US business visa). To quote directly from a Reuters story posted on the website airwise.com:

The complicated US visa system hurts tourism and must be reformed if the United States wants to attract lucrative tourism from countries such as China, India and Brazil, travel industry officials said…

Readers of this blog are encouraged to click upon the hyperlinks noted above to read this story in detail and also gain greater insight into this developing issue.

At the time of this writing the United States maintains a system which allows for some nations to receive admission to the USA through a visa waiver program. As noted above: China, India, and Brazil are not included in the visa waiver program. This situation exists notwithstanding the fact that these three nations in association with two others (South Africa and Russia) compose the so-called BRICS group of developing countries with what some would claim is a virtually unlimited capacity for economic growth in the future.

This visa waiver program also entails the so-called “ESTA” (Electronic System For Travel Authorization) program, which requires foreign nationals to pre-register for admission to the United States before beginning their journey to America. It should be noted that in its current form the ESTA program only pertains to nationals from visa waiver participating countries. Therefore, nationals from countries such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Kingdom of Thailand cannot benefit from the visa waiver program and the ESTA program as of the time of this writing.

Those interested in further information on such topics are encouraged to visit a few official websites: HERE and HERE. To quote further from the aforementioned piece:

“The challenge we have is the unnecessary, burdensome US visa system,” said USTA president Roger Dow. “It’s really self-imposed barriers that we put on ourselves as a country that have caused us to lose international travel and that have stymied international growth.”

This blogger has heard this argument made in the past and it is certainly salient especially at a time when tourism income is in high demand in an international context. To continue quoting further:

The US visa process from beginning to end can take as long as 145 days in Brazil and 120 days in China, a USTA report said. In contrast, Britain takes an average of 12 days to process visas in Brazil and 11 days in China…

Clearly, the visa processing time differential between the United States and the somewhat similarly socioeconomically situated United Kingdom is a stark contrast. To quote further:

US Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who chairs a subcommittee focused on export promotion and competitiveness, said the travel industry was important to help President Barack Obama meet his stated goal of doubling exports by 2014. “We see it as part of our economic recovery. I see this as a way to get jobs in our country,” Klobuchar said…

It is refreshing to see a federal legislator like Senator Amy Klobucher from the sovereign State of Minnesota taking the time to investigate an issue that may, at first glance, seem mundane. In point of fact, matters pertaining to United States non-immigrant visas are extremely important as they can have a significant impact upon foreign direct investment in the United States and the amount of money raised by American companies and enterprises offering services to foreign nationals both in the USA and abroad. Finally, a legislator trying to find reasonable solutions to American economic concerns in a reasonable manner! America: Let us not forget, we are one of the most historically fascinating and economically dynamic nations ever to have made our voices heard in the chorus of history. Why do we forget this? We seem to find ourselves constantly debating the minutia of our past transgressions or the history of our geopolitically unique grouping of jurisdictions. We do this when solutions to some of the current economic problems stare us in the face. The reality is that there are many around the world who wish to do business with those in the United States of America. There are many who want to buy our products. There currently exists the distinct possibility that the continent of Asia will have a constantly growing middle class of prospective international travelers for decades into the future. These travelers will likely be traveling for both business as well as pleasure. It stands to reason that many prospective tourists from Asia will make their initial international travel decisions with great care. Therefore, America should continue to be mindful of the fact there exists an international competitive market for income generated from tourism.  It stands to reason that more tourists in America means more tourism income.

From a legal perspective there is something to be said for allowing further membership in the United States visa waiver program as it would lead to fewer overall denied visa applications based upon section 214(b) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act. Currently, many tourist visa applications are denied pursuant to a presumption in the aforementioned section of U.S. law. This section requires Consular Officers to make the factual presumption that a tourist visa applicant is actually an intending American immigrant unless the applicant can produce sufficient evidence to overcome this presumption. The visa waiver program gets around this 214(b) presumption by waiving the need for an American visa. Simultaneously, the visa waiver program also restricts those foreign nationals admitted into the United States from adjusting status to lawful permanent residence. One may adjust one’s status to lawful permanent residence (Green Card status) from tourist visa status in the U.S.A. under very limited circumstances. The visa waiver program does not permit such adjustment and therefore requires those foreign nationals seeking immigrant status to depart the United States and undergo Consular Processing abroad.

It remains to be seen whether or not US visa policy regarding non-immigrant visas such as those described above will be changed, but clearly there is some momentum behind this rather important issue in Washington D.C.

For related information please see: K-1 visa system, K-3 visa system, or US Company Registration.

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14th March 2011

For those who are unaware, the United States Customs and Border Protection Service (USCBP) is responsible for monitoring the ports of entry to the United States of America. For some, it may be possible to receive a sort of pre-approval for expedited admission at the various ports of entry in and around the United States.  To quote directly from the homepage of the website GlobalEntry.gov:

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Though intended for frequent international travelers, there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program. Participants may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at select airports.

As noted in the citation above, it may be possible for those who are in the program to enter the United States using an automated kiosk rather than the standard method of entering the USA through a classic immigration checkpoint. In order to better understand this it may be best to quote directly from the “About” page of the website GlobalEntry.gov:

At airports, program participants proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable U.S. passport or permanent resident card, place their fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.

Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and interview before enrollment.

While Global Entry’s goal is to speed travelers through the process, members may be selected for further examination when entering the United States. Any violation of the program’s terms and conditions will result in appropriate enforcement action and revocation of the traveler’s membership privileges.

The Customs and Border Protection Service has a broad mandate to monitor the ports of entry to the United States as well as enforcing relevant customs law. Meanwhile, USCBP recently held the chair of a subcommittee of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization, which is dedicated to economic coordination of the various Asia-Pacific countries. Currently, the United States of America chairs APEC since the chair was turned over to the United States from the Japanese in November of 2010.

Those reading this posting should not confuse the global entry program with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) nor the visa waiver program (VWP, which itself should not be confused with the I-601 waiver or the I-212 waiver) as these are different programs and may not be relevant to those seeking information regarding ESTA and the VWP.

For related information please see: USCIS.

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13th March 2011

The following was quoted directly from the official website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security of the of the United States:

This advisory is for Japanese and other foreign nationals from the Pacific stranded in the United States due to the earthquakes and tsunami devastation. If you have exceeded or are about to exceed your authorized stay in the U.S. you may be permitted up to an additional 30 days to depart.

Visitors traveling under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

Visitors traveling under a nonimmigrant visa:

For additional immigration relief options, please visit the Special Situations Web page.

As readers may be aware, a recent earthquake in Japan has resulted in possible serious problems at nuclear facilities and displaced many. The Earthquake itself has been categorized between 8.8 and 9.1 on the Richter scale. This tragedy has had reverberations throughout the globe in the form of tsunamis and some even speculating about the possibility that radiation could be leaking from Japanese reactors at the time of this writing. Concurrently, it has also been reported that a volcano has erupted in southern japan which may result in further problems for both the Japanese governmental authorities as well as the Japanese people.

It is this blogger’s hope that this tragedy does not cause further loss of life and injury while Japanese and international organizations take measures to assist survivors and clean up the fallout. Japan has been a staunch ally of the United States in Asia for many years and there are likely to be economic and political repercussions for both the United States and Japan. Meanwhile, similar things could be said about relations between Thailand and Japan as the recent events are likely to have an impact upon economic and political issues pertaining to Thai-Japanese bilateral relations.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service is primarily responsible for adjudicating immigration matters and also implementing some immigration policies. It would appear that in light of the recent Japanese tragedy the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS are taking the humanitarian aspects of the overall situation into consideration as policies are promulgated in an effort to efficiently deal with the repercussions of the recent Earthquake in an American context. The Department of Homeland Security took similar measures when dealing with the aftermath of the Earthquake in Haiti.

For related information please see: visa waiver program.

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24th August 2010

Those familiar with this blog may recall that new measures have been implemented that can have an effect upon those traveling to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program. The Department of State (DOS) recently released a cable which outlines soon-to-be implemented changes to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The following is quoted directly from the Department of State Cable as distributed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

Summary: This cable provides additional information on implementation of the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (TPA) and fee collection for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), requests posts to engage in outreach, and provides talking points. End summary.


3. As previously reported (Ref a), President Obama signed the TPA into law on March 4, 2010. The TPA will create a partnership between the U.S. government and the private sector to market the United States as a travel destination for international visitors. Fees collected from international travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, matched by private sector contributions, will fund the Corporation for Travel Promotion. The fees will be collected through the ESTA system, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administers.


4. On August 6, 2010, DHS announced an interim final rule that amends DHS regulations to require travelers from VWP countries to pay operational and travel promotion fees when applying for ESTA beginning September 8, 2010. The total fee will be $14.00, with $4.00 to recover the cost of administering the ESTA system and $10.00 as mandated in the TPA.


5. The Department is working with DHS and the Department of Commerce to notify foreign and domestic media, the travel industry, and other stakeholders about this change. The Department requests that consular officers in VWP countries, in coordination with DHS and Commerce representatives, meet with host government officials, and airline, tourism, and other stakeholders to inform them of the new fee provisions connected to ESTA. Please contact the ESTA Program Management Office [redacted] for outreach materials or requests for ESTA representatives to travel in-country. They will do their best to accommodate. This cable is being sent as an ALDAC to facilitate all posts answering questions from citizens of VWP countries and the general public.


6. The Department supports the TPA goal of attracting international visitors to the United States. Our greatest diplomatic tool for sharing American values is America itself, and we recognize the critical importance of travel and tourism to our economy and job creation. The Department looks forward to working with the Corporation for Travel Promotion to ensure that prospective visitors to the United States receive comprehensive, up-to-date information on travel documents and requirements for entry.

The Travel Promotion Act mentioned above will likely have significant consequences for those foreign nationals traveling to the United States pursuant to the conditions of the visa waiver program. Therefore, those originating in a country that has visa-free travel privileges to the USA may be wise to research both the US Visa Waiver Program and the ESTA program. Fortunately, the aforementioned cable also included a Frequently Asked Questions Section. The following FAQ’s were quoted from the previously mentioned DOS cable distributed by AILA:

Q. What is the new fee charged to travelers?
A. It is $14.00. Since the implementation of ESTA, DHS has had discretion to charge a fee to cover administrative costs. DHA determined that cost to be $4.00 per registration. The TPA fee adds an additional $10.00.


Q. When will the fee go into effect?
A. ESTA registrations on or after September 8, 2010, will be subject to the fee.


Q. How do travelers pay the fee?
A. At this time, payment is required through the following credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, and Discover. Payments can also be made with a debit card that holds the Visa or Mastercard symbol. Please check with your bank on the compatibility of your debit card. We are continuing to explore other payment measures. The ESTA registration form already in use will walk users through the payment process.


Q. What types of privacy protection exist on the website?
A. “Pay.gov” uses advanced encryption to protect transactions while applicants are logged in. When accessing a profile, any account numbers entered will be masked on-screen.


Q. How long are ESTA approvals valid?
A. Each approved ESTA application will be valid for a period of two years unless the traveler’s passport expires sooner. It allows for multiple visits to the United States within that application.


Q. If I have a valid ESTA, will I have to re-register when the new fees go into effect?
A. No, existing ESTA registrations remain valid for travel through their expiration date.


Q. Is ESTA approval like a visa?
A. An ESTA approval is not a visa under U.S. law, nor does it confer the same benefits as a visa.


Q. Will this attract more international visitors to the United States?
A. Oxford Economics, a leading economic forecasting consultancy, estimates that the TPA program will generate $4 billion in new visitor spending, and lead to the creation of 40,000 new jobs.


Q. Why do VWP countries have to fund this travel promotion program through ESTA fees?
A. Some countries fund tourism promotion through airline or hotel taxes. The Travel Promotion Act legislation specified that the U.S. government fund this program through a $10 fee added to ESTA registration.


8. The following are Visa Waiver Program member countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom…

At the time of this writing, the Kingdom of Thailand is not a member of the United States Visa Waiver Program. Therefore, ESTA rules have little impact upon most Thai nationals. That said, as pointed out in previous blog posts, relevant regulations may require those who have been issued a 221g refusal to disclose this refusal as a “visa denial” for purposes of travel to the USA on the Visa Waiver Program. It would seem that at the time of this writing the Department of State and the United States Customs and Border Protection Service (USCBP), an agency under the authority of the US Department of Homeland Security, view 221(G) refusals differently. Those who have been issued a 221g who still wish to travel to the United States may be wise to contact a US lawyer in order to deal with a pending 221g refusal.

Those who are from countries that do not participate in the Visa Waiver Program should seek a US visa before traveling to the USA. For information about the US Tourist Visa please see: B2 visa.

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10th July 2010

K1 visas are a topic frequently discussed on this web log as they are a rather popular travel document for those American Citizens who have a foreign fiancee living outside of the United States of America. That said, in a recently filed complaint before the Federal District Court of Oregon an American Citizen, Dzu Cong Tran, asked for declaratory and injunctive relief as well as a writ of mandamus in connection with his previously filed I-129f petition on behalf of his Vietnamese fiancee. To quote the opening of the complaint:

COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AND PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS


Nearly three years ago, the former United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) Ombudsman Mr. Prakash Khatri issued recommendations to Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and USCIS regarding necessary changes to the standards and
processes for re-adjudication of petitions returned by consular offices for revocation or revalidation, due to systemic nationwide failures of the system. Two years ago, Jonathan R. Scharfen, former Acting Director of USCIS under the Bush Administration responded to the USCIS Ombudsman’s recommendations, implementing only some of those recommendations and specifically rejecting others. This class action lawsuit involves some of the recommendations of the USCIS Ombudsman which were rejected by defendants, in addition to other issues.


Through the contradictory and unlawful practices of each defendant agency, plaintiff and class members have been aggrieved by agency action and inaction, have suffered agency action unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed, have been subjected to arbitrary, capricious and unlawful denials and file transfers, have been deprived of due process of law and had visa issuance and petition approval denied or unreasonably withheld contrary to constitutional right, contrary to procedure required by law, and contrary to the limitations of statutory jurisdiction and authority. Thousands of families across the country and around the
world have been separated due to a colossal sparring match between the defendant agencies, and because of internal dissent within each agency.


Specifically, Plaintiff Dzu Cong Tran, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, challenges (a) defendant U.S. State Department’s (State Department’s) policies and procedures for processing and returning approved petitions to defendant U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with a recommendation that the petition be revoked; and (b) defendant USCIS’ policies and procedures for revoking, denying or terminating petitions returned to it by defendant State Department. Plaintiff respectfully petitions this Court for injunctive, declaratory and mandamus relief to: (a) compel State Department to schedule a
visa interview within a reasonable period from the date that State Department’s National Visa Center receives an approved I-129F petition for fiancé(e) from USCIS; (b) compel State Department to issue a K-1 visa to the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or notify the petitioner and beneficiary that the petition will be returned to DHS/USCIS within reasonable period following interview; (c) compel State Department to provide a reasonable period during which a petitioner and beneficiary may rebut consular findings before the petition is returned to DHS/USCIS; (d) compel State Department to return petitions to DHS/USCIS only where substantial evidence
exists that fraud, misrepresentation, or ineligibility would lead to denial, and not where it is merely suspected; and to provide a written notice supported by the legal and factual basis for the visa denial and petition return that are not conclusive, speculative, equivocal or irrelevant; (e)compel State Department to render a final decision to approve the K-1 visa or return a petition to
DHS/USCIS within a reasonable period not to exceed 30 days from the receipt of all necessary documents from the petitioner and beneficiary, and to accomplish delivery of the petition to State Department’s National Visa Center within such period; (f) declare that 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(k)(5), which purports to limit the validity of a K-1 fiancé(e) petition (Form I-129F) to four months, is ultra vires and in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right; (g) following such declaration, enjoin DHS/USCIS from limiting the validity period of any approved fiancé(e) petition; (h) declare that the Foreign Affairs Manual, at 9 FAM 40.63 N10.1, which purports to establish the materiality of an alleged misrepresentation pursuant to 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(C)(i), INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i), merely based upon DHS/USCIS summary revocation of the petition is ultra vires and in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right; (i) issue a permanent injunction barring the State Department from placing a marker, called a “P6C1” marker, or “quasi-refusal” in a visa beneficiary’s record, and deeming the DHS/USCIS revocation of the petition as automatically establishing the permanent misrepresentation bar to any future immigration possibility; (j) compel DHS/USCIS to issue a notice to petitioner within a reasonable period of time not to exceed 30 days from receipt of the returned petition from the State Department, providing petitioner with the legal and factual basis for the consular recommendation that is not conclusive, speculative, equivocal or irrelevant; (k) compel DHS/USCIS to provide petitioner the opportunity to submit evidence to rebut the consular recommendation within a reasonable period of time; (l) compel DHS/USCIS, in the case of a reaffirmation of approval, to deliver the reaffirmed petition to the State Department within a reasonable period of time, and compel State Department to issue the K-1 visa within a reasonable period of time following reaffirmation; (m) compel DHS/USCIS, in the case of a denial, to issue a decision within a reasonable period of time, and to advise petitioner of the right to appeal the decision to the Administrative Appeals Office.

The United States of America’s immigration apparatus is complex and multifaceted. This is due to the fact that two Departments have a role in the Immigration process and within each of those Departments there are multiple government agencies with different roles at differing phases of the process. For example, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the United States Customs and Border Protection Service (USCBP), respectively, have jurisdiction over adjudication of visa petitions and inspection of aliens upon admission to the United States. In the interim, the Department of State, through the National Visa Center and each US Embassy or US Consulate abroad, is tasked with adjudicating visa applications and making determinations regarding an individual applicant’s admissibility to the USA. In the vast majority of cases involving a US visa denial the applicant will be provided written notice of the denial along with factual and legal reasons for the denial. Amongst many other things, the aforementioned complaint alleged that the:

State Department issued the [visa] denial based on mere suspicion and failed to provide a written notice supported by the legal and factual basis for the visa denial and petition return that was not conclusive, speculative, equivocal or irrelevant.

When a US visa application is denied, the Consular Officer issuing the denial should provide a written notice of denial based upon findings of fact and conclusions of law. The complaint, in essence, would seem to be alleging that the Officer at the US Consulate in HCMC did not provide a legally sufficient basis for denial.  Of further interest within the complaint was the following allegation:

State Department, in its denial, stated that, “[i]f USCIS revokes the petition, beneficiary will become ineligible for a visa under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the Act.” INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(C)(i), is a permanent bar to admissibility for misrepresentation. Pursuant to the Foreign Affairs Manual, 9 FAM 40.63 N10.1, State Department placed a marker, called a “P6C1” marker, or “quasi-refusal” in Ms. Pham’s records, and will deem USCIS revocation of the petition as automatically establishing the permanent misrepresentation bar to any future immigration possibility.

This is an interesting phenomenon. As the US Immigration system becomes more sophisticated Department of State refusals seem to be evermore problematic for those who may later seek admission to the United States. For example, in another post on this blog it was noted that those with a previously issued 221(g) denial from a US Embassy or US Consulate may be denied benefits under the visa waiver program pursuant regulations related to the Electronic System For Travel Authorization (ESTA). As ESTA is under the jurisdiction of the USCBP and since that agency considers 221g refusals to be denials, while the Department of State continues to refer to them as refusals, the issuance of 221g could lead to an otherwise admissible individual being deemed inadmissible to the United States. This author has never personally dealt with a situation in which a Consular Officer has denied a US visa without a factual or legal basis. Hopefully, this case will help ascertain the exact nature of visa refusals at Consulates and Embassies overseas. Bearing that in mind, the decision in a case such as this could have major ramifications upon Consular Processing procedures at virtually every US Consular Post abroad.

For further information related to the US fiance visa please see: K1 visa.

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6th March 2010

Since the recent worldwide economic downturn the global tourism industry has suffered a great deal. Much can be attributed to the fact that people have less disposable income, but others are of the opinion that increased promotion may be the key to dealing with this issue. In the United States, the government and business leaders have devised a plan to promote more travel to the USA. To quote a recent posting on CNN’s website:

“President Obama signed legislation into law Thursday to create the United States’ first national travel promotion program…The act will create a nonprofit Corporation for Travel Promotion that will promote the United States as a travel destination and explain travel and security policies to international visitors…”

One aspect of the new program that is stirring up some resentment is the addition of a $10 fee that much be paid by those wishing to enter the United States on the visa waiver program (not to be confused with an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility):

“A $10 fee charged to visitors from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program will partially fund the public-private organization. These visitors will pay the fee every two years when they register online using the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization…”

As readers may recall, The Electronic System For Travel Authorization (ESTA) is used by those who wish to seek entry into the USA on a visa waiver. This system pre-screens foreign entrants for security purposes. As mentioned previously, tourism around the world is declining, but this program may provide stimulus to this sector of the US economy:

“Despite strong global growth in long-haul international travel between 2000 and 2008, the U.S. welcomed 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than it did in 2000, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Oxford Economics, an economic consulting and forecasting company, estimates a well-executed promotional program would draw 1.6 million new international visitors annually and generate $4 billion in new visitor spending.”

It remains to be seen how this program will work, but certainly encouragement of tourism is necessary. However, some have questioned how requiring a new fee for travel to the United States will encourage tourism. This is certainly a valid point as increased restrictions on travel for so-called “visa waiver countries” may be one of the reasons behind decreased tourism. There are those who have called ESTA a new type of visa and now that there is a charge for the service it is beginning to become a sort of online visa. That being said, balancing security and economic concerns is difficult.

This new law will likely have very little impact for those from Thailand as Thai nationals do not enjoy “visa waiver” privileges. For this reason Thai nationals must apply for a US tourist visa if they wish to enter the US for recreational purposes. Further, Thais wishing to travel to the US to be with a fiance or spouse must apply for either a K1 visa or a US marriage visa before they will be able to be lawfully admitted.

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6th November 2009

The United States visa waiver program, not to be confused with an I-601 waiver, allows citizens from certain countries to enter the United States of American without obtaining a visa prior to arrival. In recent years the United States government has implemented ESTA, also known as: the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA requires that travelers wishing to enter the country on a visa waiver inform the US Immigration authorities prior to arrival so that a pre-screening can be conducted. The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service is tasked with monitoring those seeking travel clearances using the ESTA system. Recently it has been reported by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that 221g denials must be reported in the ESTA form, to quote AILA directly:

“CBP recently informed AILA that it, after consultation with the Department of State (DOS), is classifying all §221(g) actions on visa applications as visa “denials.” Thus, Visa Waiver Program (VWP) applicants, who are subject to INA §221(g) refusals, should answer affirmatively in their ESTA applications that they have been denied a visa. This suggestion applies even if the reason for the refusal is due to consular administrative processing. If VWP travelers do not disclose such a “denial” on their ESTA applications or provide an update regarding such “denials,” they may have their ESTA registration rejected or be sent to secondary inspection and potentially refused entry when they apply for admission to the United States.”

This is important to note for those originating from a country participating in the US visa waiver program. For example, if the foreign fiancee of a US Citizen has been issued a 221g with regard to a K1 visa application, then that 221g must be disclosed as a denial on the ESTA form if said fiancee intends to visit the US and the foreign fiancee’s home country participates in this program.

As AILA’s article went on to point out, the Department of State does not even consider 221(g)’s to be outright denials,

Technically, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) classifies a §221(g) action as a visa “refusal,” but DOS explicitly retains authority to “reactivate” the visa application upon receipt of required documents or completion of a government mandated administrative clearance. See 9 FAM 41.121 N2.4.

This situation is a classic example of two different government agencies taking a differing view of the same situation. The Department of State seems to view 221g refusals as administrative refusals to issue a visa without further documentation while the Department of Homeland Security seems to view such refusals as US visa denials that could be viewed as grounds for denying a person’s subsequent entry into the USA.

This issue will likely not be particularly problematic in the Kingdom of Thailand as Thailand is not a country participating in the visa waiver program, but for others around the world this issue could lead to problems entering the USA.

For those in this situation, it is always advisable to be honest, but it may be possible to explain the situation by answering “yes” to the question: Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry? After answering in the affirmative there should be space to explain. Therefore, the applicant probably should note that the denial was: a 221(g), at the Embassy or Consulate (example: US Embassy Bangkok, US Consulate Chiang Mia, US Embassy Burma, etc.),  and the reason for the “denial” (example: Embassy conducted administrative processing, Consulate requested further documentation, etc).

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30th June 2009

There are some countries whose nationals have the right to travel to the United States of America without first obtaining a visa. The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) was designed to allow certain foreign nationals visa-free travel to the United States. The visa waiver program should not be confused with an I-601 waiver of the grounds of inadmissibility.

Since September 11, 2001 the the Department of Homeland Security, United States Customs Department, United State Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS), the Transportation Safety Authority, and other United States Federal agencies have been formulating ways to better maintain security with regard to international travel. It was determined that the Visa Waiver program might be used by possibly hostile parties as a method for entering the United States in order to conduct harmful activity. As a result of this policy decision, the US authorities have attempted to implement a precreening process for thse entering the United States via the Waiver Program. This process is known by its acronym: ESTA.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was made operational under Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by Section 711 of the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” Pub. L. No. 110-53. The Act compelled the Department of Homeland Security to institute a systematic method to verify the fitness of travelers to the USA and make sure such travelers pose no imminent threat to American safety.

The ESTA is a no-cost, fully computerized program used to ascertain the qualifications of those traveling to the United States of America through the use of the American Visa Waiver Program. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization gathers similar information as that required on Form I-94W. An ESTA application can be tendered at any point before traveling to the United States of America. That being said, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security advise that travelers submit an ESTA application when they begin setting a travel itinerary.

As of January 12, 2009, those who are citizens of any country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program must obtain travel approval from ESTA before they will be allowed to enter the USA under VWP.

Some people are under the misconception that ESTA is a visa.  An ESTA approval is not a visa. Instead it is a prescreening for entry into the United States visa free.

For those who have trouble with the English language, the website has been translated into Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish.

(Please note: this is intended for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney/client relationship is created between author and reader).

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29th June 2009

Visa Waivers are often accorded to nationals from countries that have a long standing relationship with the USA. Currently, the Kingdom of Thailand is not a participant in the US Visa Waiver Program, therefore, anyone wishing to travel to the USA on a Thai passport must obtain some sort of American Visa.

The US Visa waiver program should not be confused with a waiver of excludability which is usually necessity after a US visa denial based upon a legal ground of inadmissibility. The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) was created to allow certain foreign nationals entry into the United States visa-free.

In the mid-1980′s, the US Immigration Reform and Control Act integrated the Visa Waiver Pilot Program into the United States Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The Visa waiver initiative remained a pilot program until October 30, 2000. At that time, the Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act made the program a permanent fixture of immigration law. The Visa Waiver Program’s legal foundation is stipulated in section 217 of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act. In 2007, the addition of section 711 of the INA created measures to strengthen the security of the Visa Waiver Program.

The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, may assign a nation as a participant in the Visa Waiver program if:

  1. The nation grants similar travel rights to Americans;
  2. The nation has attested that it dispenses electronic passports that contain data storage chips;
  3. The nation started issuing such Passports to its citizens on or before October 26, 2006.
  4. The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State prepare a report calculating the effect the country’s VWP authorization upon US security; and
  5. The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State decide that the nation’s inclusion in the program will not damage American security interest, this includes issues involved in the enforcement of US Immigration law.

Who can enjoy the Visa Waiver Program?

The nationals of the following countries are eligible to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom (With regard to United Kingdom Passports, Only UK passports denoted as “British Citizens” and/or “with unrestricted right of abode in the United Kingdom” are eligible for entrance to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program. Those holding passports designating that the bearer is a “British Subject,”  “British Dependent Territories Citizen,” “British Overseas Citizen,” or “British National [Overseas],” cannot enter the United States through the Visa waiver program.)

In order to enter the USA visa-free on the Visa Waiver Program an entrant must first use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

(Please note: Nothing contained herein should be used as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this piece.)

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