The Pros and Cons of the Visa Waiver Program

With the exciting news of Israel’s imminent acceptance in the US visa waiver program, also known as ESTA, it’s important to know who benefits and who doesn’t. The visa waiver program allows citizens of those countries accepted into the program to enter the United States without a visa. For those eligible, it means no more waiting in long lines at the US embassy for tourist visas. However, it does require an online application, which asks many of the same questions as tourist visa applications. The good news is it’s inexpensive to apply, only $21, as opposed to $185 for a tourist visa, and the applicant usually gets an instantaneous answer. The ESTA authorization lasts for two years before needing to renew it.

Who is eligible and who should get an ESTA?

While ESTA benefits many, some will not be eligible, and for others, regular visas may be preferable. Who is not eligible for ESTA?

  1. Those with existing and current visas to the United States.
  2. Those who do not have digital passports.
  3. Those who have been denied a visa or ESTA in the past.

Just because one is eligible for ESTA doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice to enter the US. One entering the US under ESTA is limited to a 90 day stay. The ESTA holder can always depart the US and try to reenter. However, that person likely will be questioned at the border as to why they are reentering so soon. If denied entry, then the ESTA authorization is revoked, likely meaning the person will no longer be eligible for ESTA in the future. If a person plans to stay in the US longer than 90 days, it’s better to apply for a tourist or some other type of visa. Most of the time those, entering the US on tourist visas will be granted six month stays. A person denied ESTA may apply for a visa at a US embassy. Be aware, however, that denials of ESTA and visas may affect one’s possibility of even receiving a visa at a US embassy.

Additional restrictions for ESTA holders

ESTA authorization permits travel to and entry into the US for tourism and business meetings. It does not authorize work. If found working in the US, the ESTA holder’s status will be revoked. ESTA authorization also does not mean the person will automatically be permitted entry into the US. ESTA holders are subject to inspection by immigration officers at their port of entry. As with other types of visas to the US, the ESTA holder will be asked what they’re planning to do while in the US and where they plan to stay.

Contact us

For short-term visits to the US, the visa waiver program makes travel to the US simpler and cheaper for many people. However, it’s not for everyone.

If you are unsure whether the ESTA suits you or a tourist visa is better, please contact our office for more information.

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