The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from member countries to travel to the US visa free. This can make travel to the US a lot more convenient. There is a limited number of countries that are currently member countries.
The US has very tight restrictions for traveling to the US and vets each country that is a member country closely. The program has slowly added more and more countries each year and there is no reason to think that more countries will not be added to the program.
There are currently 38 member states of the VWP which opens up a great deal of travel opportunities in those countries not only for travelers going to the US but also for travelers coming from the US.
The following countries are member participants in the program:
*To be eligible to travel under the VWP, British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
Additionally: “Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
- Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
- Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.”
The Vetting Process
The process of coming to agreement to become a VWP relies on a few different components. Of course the country has to be a trusted ally country and come to an agreement with the US to afford citizens traveling from the US to their countries the same reciprocal travel arrangements.
Countries that are vetted for the program start with a nomination from a country that is already in the program. Once the nomination is received the bargaining begins. The US is very cautious when it comes to which countries they allow to participate in the program.
A nomination from a member country is looked at as a nod in the ability of that country to adhere to the guidelines that are a part of the program. In other words, if one country nominates another the country that does the nominating is taking responsibility for that country and how it behaves during the process.
The process from being nominated to being confirmed can take anywhere from 1-3 years. Several things are considered when vetting a country to become a member state:
Meet the applicable regulations and statutory requirements
Not have any issues with human rights accusations in the world court
Willing to share security related information with the US about law enforcement activity
Be willing to issue E-passports
A timely system for reporting lost, blank, stolen passports
A high level of counterterrorism, border control, document security standards and law enforcement standards
Countries that cannot meet the high standards and expectations for travel requirements from their country will be rejected and not considered again for the program for 5 years and the caveats have been met. The US takes very seriously travel security and requires that member countries also adopt stringent rules that govern entry into their country.
Nominated and Mapped Countries
There is a list of countries that are under consideration now to become part of the VWP:
Argentina was a previous member from 1996-2002 and is being reconsidered.
Each of the above countries are either in the vetting process because they have been nominated or have already been through the vetting process and are on the roadmap. The roadmap is like an ingredient list that has to be followed by certain dates that ends with the approval for visa free travel.
What Does Visa Free Mean to You
There is no doubt that it is far easier to travel to the USA when you do not have to get visa which historically could take months BUT “visa free” does not mean “guaranteed entry” or “zero document” travel. Even citizens of VWP countries are required to get authorization to travel to the US.
It is much easier to get an ESTA (electronic system for travel authorization) than it ever was to get a Visa. You can get the authorization in about 24 business hours by going here. You can get the authorization that you need to board your flight, boat and enter the US.
Do keep in mind that the ESTA authorization does not mean that you cannot be stopped at the border and refused entry but you do need it to have permission to travel to the US.
Most citizens from member countries never have a problem entering the US with the ESTA authorization. As long as you have a valid e-passport and are honest on your ESTA application you should not have any issues.
Travelling to the USA?
If you have plans of visiting the US in the near future, the time to get your application is now!ESTA USA - Online Application
The Future of the VWP
Not too long ago the prediction was dire when it came to whether or not the VWP would even remain but since 2014 the program is starting to pick up steam again and is opening up to more countries. As travel security becomes more important to the rest of the world more countries will be admitted into the program.
The future of the VWP is on solid ground. If your country is not a member country yet there is a strong possibility that it will become one in the near future.
This program affords travelers worldwide a great opportunity for almost document “free” travel.