ESTA Summary – Visa Waiver Traveler Information

ESTA is a web-based data collection system, initially launched by the Department of Homeland Security in August 2008, which determines the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel “visa-free”, under the VWP, prior to traveling to the United States.

According to recent DHS data, more than 1.2 million ESTA applications have been received, and over 98% of applicants have been approved. DHS further states that will take a ‘reasonable approach’ to travelers who have not obtained an approved travel authorization via ESTA, and will continue an aggressive advertising and outreach campaign throughout 2009.

Travelers without an approved ESTA are advised, however, that they may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.

The citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Eight of these countries joined the VWP in 2008, and their citizens and nationals have been required to comply with an ESTA since their designation as VWP participants: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Malta.

There has been some degree of confusion as to when and how ESTA applies. In brief, ESTA only applies to foreign nationals (Non-U.S. citizens) who are eligible to travel to the United States under the terms and conditions of the Visa Waiver Program, without a Visa or Green Card, or other government-issued permission.

Any person who needs a visa or has a visa already does not need to complete the ESTA process prior to traveling to the United States. Essentially anyone who would complete a WHITE I-94 card at arrival in the U.S., does not participate in ESTA. On the flip side, anyone who would normally complete a GREEN I-94W card at arrival in the U.S. MUST now complete ESTA.

While the ESTA is geared to eventually phasing out paper I-94W cards altogether, it is CBP’s current advice and recommendation to complete BOTH, the ESTA online, AND the paper I-94W card for inspection. It is further recommended that the ESTA-traveler bring a paper printout of their ESTA application response in order to maintain a record of their ESTA application number.

The ESTA application Web site has been made available in several languages and helps to guide VWP travelers through the application process.


Guest Author

Steven A. Culbreath, Esq

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25 thoughts on “ESTA Summary – Visa Waiver Traveler Information

  1. Hi Again,

    My h1-b application is still pending with USCIS. I have mailed sydney consulate if i am eligible for visa waiver program and got a reply that i can’t untill my application is still pending.

    My query is if i take back my h1-b application , am i eligible for visa waiver program.

    Regards

  2. Hi

    My ESTA has been approved under visa waiver program.
    BUt it says the entry to US still depends on customer and border security officer.
    I never had a criminal offence. And everything is fine about me .

    what are the reasons they can deny entry to US

    cheers

  3. Hi Sukh,
    This a reply to both your posts. The final determination is left up to the Customs people at the airport to let you in the US. Now usually if you have approvals, visas, etc. they will let you through without a problem. In your case it may appear on your screen that you have a pending H-1B application and it may not, and they may ask you about it and why you are coming to the US now with a pending visa application.
    The H-1B quotas have not been exhausted this year so my guess if your company and your application is proper you will get an H-1B visa and be able to start in October working.
    CJ

  4. Thanks,

    Its already been 2 years since my company apply for visa
    and 11 months my application with USCIS. I believe its sensible if i go there on visa waiver program . And what if we revoke our H1-b application after getting
    j1-visa. Am i eligible for visa waiver program.

    Regards

  5. Hi ,

    I got a reply from consulate . There is no rule stating that i cannot use VWP , if my visa application is pending in consulate. As long as i dont have any intention to immigrate and work in usa.

    Regards

  6. Your application may have been with USCIS for 11 months but they are only going to approve H-1B visas after April 1. Have you checked the status using your case number on the USCIS website?
    You are eligible for Visa Waiver if they don’t approve H-1B.
    CJ

  7. Hi

    I got an email from melbourne consulate , it says my case have been reviewed and additional administrative processing is still going on. I am hoping for the best.I dont know how long it will take.

    Regards

  8. Hi there,
    I was arrested a year ago, but the charges were dropped and did not result in any conviction. My travel agent signed me up for the VWP and my application was approved even though I have been arrested. I only have 5 weeks untill my trip. Is there anything I should be worried about? Now its approved I should be Ok from that side of things?

    Regards

  9. If you have done the ESTA and got the approval you will be fine if all else is in order.
    Enjoy your holiday.
    CJ

  10. Alej,

    An arrest without a conviction means nothing is held againts you at all – when it comes to visas or anything else for that matter: innocent until proven guilty and you were never proven guilty so there is nothing on record against you.

  11. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  12. Hi,

    Today i have applied and been given authorization to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. Being a British born muslim i am rather concerned as within the past couple of years i have travelled to both Saudia Arabia as well as Pakistan. Hence i do see myself as somewhat of a target for the CBP.

    I intend to visit Las Vegas for one week some time soon. However the last thing that i want is to arrive and then be put back on a return flight. Am i able to apply for a US Visa despite arleady having cleared the Visa Waiver Program?

    As with a US Visa it would give me a little more comfort in the sense that i may actually be able to enjoy my holiday.

    Your reply would more than be appreciated

    Many Thanks

  13. Hi Imran,
    I feel for your situation as there is way too many incidents of profiling people just because of their race, religion and name. To be honest though whether you have a tourist visa like the B2 visa or have an approved ESTA waiver is essentially the same thing. That is the US Government have authorized you to enter the country.
    Look if like most people of all backgrounds, you are just a regular person with no criminal background, you will be let in and whether a US Customs and Border Protection officer asks you extra questions is really based on their own bigotry.
    Enjoy your holiday,
    CJ

  14. HI CJ

    Thank you for this fantastic website! It is the most informative one i have found during my research on the E3 visa..

    I’m a Australian accountant with a bachelors in commerce and over 5 years working experience. I am planning on flying to New York in March to look for work and (fingers crossed if I get a employer willing to sponsor me) apply for my E3 visa at a US consulate in Vancouver, Canada as I have friends there.

    My question is do I need to apply for an ESTA and wait until it is approved under the visa waiver program before I fly out to New York?

    If so, does this mean I have to apply for my E3 visa in Australia?

    Or, can i enter the US without applying for my ESTA and stay until I find a employer willing to sponsor me..

    Your reply would very much be appreciated.. Thanks for your time 🙂

    Beccy

  15. HI CJ,

    I am in a bit of a delima here and was hoping i could get some advise from you.

    I am an Australian Citizen working towards getting an 3E visa. Can i use the VWP (visa waver programme) to go to USA and look for a job? Can i be honest with the CBP and other officials about it because there is a question on the ESTA and I-94W that says “are you seeking a job in USA?” answering YES to which seems like visa will not be granted.

    Would disclosing my purpose of looking for a job put my VWP travel into jepordy?

    I thank you for your time and effort and would appreciate some help.

    Warm Regards
    SID.

  16. Hi there
    I am an Australian citizen and I have a current valid ESTA. I also have a pending E3 application. Can I travel to the US on the ESTA before the E3 is approved? My employer wants me to go there for some meetings but I am not sure if that will jeopardise the E3 being approved…
    Many thanks
    Adele

  17. Hi Adele,
    No if you have a pending E3 Visa application you certainly shouldn’t travel to the US until you receive a decision or you cancel the process.
    Cj

  18. Hey there, I’m an Australian who is currently in America on an ESTA. I’ve decided I want to apply for an E3 visa, am looking for a company who will sponsor me which shouldn’t be a problem. Should I leave the country just before it expires, then apply for it outside of the country? I have to leave the country right? Please give me some advice!

  19. Hi there!

    Great comments and very informative forum.
    I have a question regarding volunteering in the US.
    I do not seem to get the B1 visa in time and am planning to apply for an ESTA now.

    It reads that I can do authorized volunteer work in the US under the ESTA, if I hold a letter from the sponsoring organisation upon arrival, is that correct?

    The work is unpaid of course, but will I be able to recieve potential reimburstment of expenses from my organisation under the ESTA?

    And last question, if the answers to the questions above are no, can I still apply for a B1 visa despite already having an ESTA approval?

    Thanks a lot !
    Laura

  20. Laura volunteer work that is unpaid and temporary and less than 3 months could easily be done under ESTA. It is a grey area in terms of strict legality but in general no issue with it. If your organization reimburses your expenses that would be a normal course of action. The B-1 visa for this purpose would just allow you to be in the country longer consecutively.
    Cj

  21. Hi – great site.

    I am currently on an E3 visa in the US, but it will expire in about a month. Is it possible to transfer to the visa waiver program (or another visa) without having to leave the the US?

    Thanks!

  22. Hello,

    I am wondering if it is possible to travel to the US with an ESTA while a J1 visa is pending?
    I would like to go to the US for vacation, come back in Switzerland and about one month later return to the US with the J1 to start my study-based exchange?

    Thanks!

  23. Hello,

    I have been offered a 2 month unpiad internship at an art centre in the US. (not a specific role just general helping out/shadowing)

    I am from the UK so am elegible for the Visa Waiver Program.

    Would it be ok for me to just enter the US on the Visa Waiver program?
    Or would I need a J-1 visa?

    Thanks

    Natalie

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