What is the Visa Waiver Program?

March 21, 2022

In response to a rapidly globalizing world economy, the U.S. created the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in 1986 to streamline business and tourism travel into the U.S. for citizens from certain countries.

Today, the VWP allows citizens from 40 countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.

What are the Conditions of the VWP?

Travelers entering the U.S. under the VWP must possess a valid machine-readable passport and obtain authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The following are examples of activities permitted while in the U.S. on the VWP.

Business:

  • Consult with business associates.
  • Attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference.
  • Attend short-term training(s).
  • Negotiate contracts.

Tourism:

  • Vacation (holiday).
  • Visit with friends or relatives.
  • Medical treatment.
  • Participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social or service organizations.
  • Participation by amateurs in musicals, sports or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating.
  • Enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation).

A country must meet certain requirements for its citizens to qualify for the VWP. For example, a country must have “an annual nonimmigrant visitor visa (i.e., B visa) refusal rate of less than three percent, or a lower average percentage over the previous two fiscal years,” according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

What are the VWP Countries?

Some of the countries in the VWP include:

  • U.K.
  • Australia
  • Estonia
  • Germany
  • France
  • Greece
  • Norway
  • South Korea

For a full list of participating countries, please visit the State Department’s website.

What are the Benefits of the VWP?

Over the past three decades, the U.S. has reaped significant economic benefits as a result of the VWP.

In 2018 alone, VWP travelers generated $190 billion in economic output and supported nearly one million jobs, according to an analysis by the U.S. Travel Association. The same analysis states that “overseas travelers stay longer and spend more while here: an average of 18 nights and about $4,200 per person per trip.”

The VWP yields direct benefits for U.S. businesses visited by foreign tourists. According to the DHS, in FY 2014, VWP travelers injected approximately $231 million a day into local economies across the U.S.

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Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Frank J. Fogelbach, who is a Supervising Attorney at Corporate Immigration Partners, one of the two independent U.S. law firms Envoy exclusively works with on the Envoy Platform (the "U.S. Law Firms"). 

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.

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