The Latest Visa Waiver Program Requirements


What are the latest eligibility requirements for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

Under the VWP Improvement Act of 2015, some travellers are ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program and will need to apply for a visa before being allowed to travel to the USA. These include:

  • Citizens from countries participating in the VWP who have visited Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen at any time since 1 March, 2011
  • Nationals of VWP countries who have dual citizenship with Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan.

There are some exceptions to these rules. Anyone who has visited Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen in order to perform military service as a member of the armed forces of a VWP country, or anyone who has visited the listed countries on official business on behalf of the government of a VWP country, can still visit the USA on the Visa Waiver Program with an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). If you have travelled to one of the 7 listed countries on military or official business, you should bring written documentation showing the reason for your visit and present it at the U.S. border.

Those with dual citizenship from one of the above countries must always apply for a full visa; there is no exception or waiver for them.

Most travellers who wish to enter the U.S. via the VWP will not be affected by the updated VWP Improvement Act 2015. However, you need to check the latest information before you travel. New countries could be added to the VWP exclusion list by the Secretary of Homeland Security at any time.


In what circumstances are the new VWP requirements waived?

Anyone who has travelled to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on military or official government business will still be able to enter the USA via the Visa Waiver Program.

Those who hold dual citizenship with one of the 7 listed countries will, however, still need to apply for a visa to enter the USA.

In rare cases, the VWP restrictions may be waived by the Department of Homeland Security if it is deemed to be in the best interests of national security or law enforcement of the USA. These exemptions will be made on an individual basis, case-by-case.


I have visited one of the 7 listed countries and am exempt from the VWP. What should I do?

The new VWP Improvement Act does not mean you cannot travel to the USA, but you will need to obtain a visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before you can do so. This will involve attending the Embassy or Consulate for a personal interview as part of the visa application process. Most U.S. Embassies and Consulates in countries that are part of the VWP can set up an interview and issue a visa without too much delay. Find out where your nearest U.S. Embassy is by visiting usembassy.gov. More details can be found at travel.state.gov for general information about visas.

If you have an urgent need to visit the USA for medical, business or humanitarian reasons and you have had your ESTA application refused or revoked, you can request an expedited appointment for your visa interview. This also applies if you need a U.S. visa due to the new VWP Improvement Act and have an urgent need to travel.

Once you have secured a visa to travel to the USA, there are some advantages over the VWP and ESTA approval system. Visas last for up to 10 years, whereas an ESTA for VWP travel is only valid for two years. A U.S. visa also allows the holder to stay up to 6 months per visit, compared to 90 days maximum per visit under the VWP.

As a U.S. visa holder, if you wish to extend your visit beyond 6 months, or you wish to change to a different type of visa, you can do so while still in the USA. None of these options are possible with the VWP; you would have to return to your home country and reapply.


Will travellers with no ties or prior travel to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen have to reapply or update their ESTA application?

No. Unless you are now in breach of the new ESTA eligibility requirements of the Act or have had your ESTA revoked, you will not need to reapply for a new ESTA authorisation until your current one expires. However, just to be sure, CBP recommends that you check your ESTA status before making any travel plans to visit the USA.

However, if you have travelled to one of the seven listed countries since 1st March 2011, CBP recommends that you re-apply for a new ESTA authorisation (if eligible) or apply for a U.S. visa before making any travel arrangements.


Are there any other countries that might affect VWP eligibility if I have visited them?

On 18 February 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security updated the Act by adding Libya, Somalia, and Yemen as three countries of concern for U.S. national security. The Act restricted VWP travel for potential visitors from VWP countries who have also travelled to these listed countries. DHS continues to monitor the situation with the Department of State and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and may add further countries to this VWP ineligibility list in the future.


How do you define a “dual citizen” or “dual national”? What if I was born in a country, but never lived there? Am I automatically a national or citizen of that country?

CBP determines your nationality in “grey” areas in accordance with U.S. legal standards and practices, and the laws and practices of foreign governments. If an individual believes that they are eligible to apply for an ESTA travel authorisation and holds a passport from an ESTA-eligible country, they should make an online application and answer all the questions honestly and accurately. A person’s ESTA eligibility is determined in accordance with U.S. law. If you have any questions, you can speak to someone at CBP by phoning 1-202-344-3710.