Understanding The USA ESTA And ESTA Visa Systems

April 25, 2019

The United States of America has long been a country that millions desire to visit, for both business and pleasure. It is also a country that many hope to be able to move to, to study in, to work in, to raise a family in. However, with a very diverse population of over 320 million, America has long been trying to control who enters the country to take up residence and employment. With the first volunteering immigrants to face visa restrictions being the Chinese in the early 19th Century. Since that period the rules regarding who can enter the USA, what they can do, and how long they can stay have changed and updated overtime. Visa regulations have become increasingly complicated, and there has been a whole industry spring up specifically to help people understand the rules, regulations and requirements for entering the USA, whether they wish to take a holiday, to further their education or to look for employment. 

Visa Waiver Program

The American Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is designed to allow citizens of specific countries to travel through the USA for tourism or business for up to 90 days without having to obtain visa documentation. The VWP will also allow citizens of these countries to transit through America without the need for a visa.

A general overview can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_Waiver_Program

Electronic Travel Authorization System

This is the system used by the Department of Homeland Security to determine your eligibility to enter the USA. If you are a citizen of a VWP country you will need to apply through the ETAS under Section 214b of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as you need to be able to prove that you are not intending to immigrate to the United States, simply visit. 

Even if you are simply hoping off one plane and getting on another, never looking outside an airport window, you will still need to ensure that you have put through your application via the ETAS or you may not be allowed to transit at all. It can be a minefield trying to ensure that you have all your information and documentation organized to apply, but this website and others like it may offer assistance, particularly those from the VWP approved Czech Republic. 

What Is The Difference Between Visa, ETAS And VWP?

Although an ETAS application is often referred to as a visa, it technically is not one. An ETAS is simply confirmation that a person from a country that has a reciprocal visa-free program is eligible to enter the USA. In order to obtain an ETAS you must already be a citizen of a country that is part of the VWP, but you must also meet other criteria relating to employment, citizenship, health (mental and physical), as well as things like criminal history. You may be declined an ETAS, but this does not affect your visa status at a later date, and Homeland Security is under no obligation to offer an explanation as to why your ETAS ‘visa’ was declined.

Applying for a visa is optional if you are from a VWP country, but may be required if you want to stay longer than 90 days, if immigration is your purpose, if you wish to study etc. A Visa is a legal document (or normally a stamp in your passport) that gives you specific rights of entry into a foreign country. The requirements for visas are different depending on which country you are wanting to enter and which country(s) you are a citizen of. 

I am In A Visa-Free Country: Can I Be Denied Entry to the USA?

Absolutely. And the restrictions that the USA Homeland Security is putting in place to keep their citizens safe may change, so you need to ensure that you apply early and apply with accuracy. Just because your country has a reciprocal agreement with America doesn’t mean that America is obliged to let you in (and your country is not obliged to let American’s in either). Each country may have different policy’s around criteria for exclusion or denying entry but for America just some of the reasons can include if you have recently had a disease or illness that may pose a public health risk, if you have a physical or mental disorder that may make you a threat to either yourself or others and certain criminal records.

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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