New York Lawyer's Legal Updates

ESTA Travel Changes

Author: US visa attorney Alena Shautsova

Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA allows citizens of certain countries to enter the United States without the need of a formal visa application. Recently, CBP updated its ESTA form to reflect changes to the Visa Waiver Program occurred in connection with the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.

The new changes affect nationals of VWP countries who have been present in Iraq, Syria, or countries listed under specified designation lists ( currently including Iran and Sudan ) at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions), as well as Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan.

The strict new requirements of the VWP can be waived in DHS’s discretion for qualifying applicants. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include individuals who traveled to these countries on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty; on behalf of humanitarian non-governmental organizations on official duty; or as a journalist for reporting purposes. Additionally individuals who traveled to Iran (only after July 14,2015) or Iraq for legitimate business -related purposes may be eligible for a waiver as well.

To get a waiver, the individual must use the CBP enhanced system. There is no separate waiver application to be filed.

The bad news is that now individuals who traveled to Libya, Somalia and Yemen since March 1, 2011, will be added to the list of countries under the new VWP restrictions as announced by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The good news is that individuals subject to the new restrictions may still apply for U.S. visas using regular visa application process. DHS also assures that in case of emergency, they will be able to expedite the consideration of applications.

05 March 2016
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