Important Changes to the Visa Waiver (ESTA) Process
- By Sarah Owings
- October 18, 2016
- Family and General Immigration
Electronic System for Travel Authorization
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is often the preferred way for eligible foreign nationals to enter the US for brief travel because of the ease of use. We refer to it as the "Visa Waiver" program, because it waives the requirement to seek a visa through a US Consulate. Instead of going through the US Consulate, the visa waiver requires a simple online application, a small fee, and about a week of waiting for a decision. To be eligible, your travel must be for the purposes of tourism or non-remunerated business (such as to attend a conference). You cannot use the ESTA system to circumvent normal visa processes in order to work in the U.S., as an employment-authorized visa is necessary.
Recent changes to the ESTA program may find certain Foreign Nationals receiving unexpected denials. As of October 3, 2016, new policies are in effect that permit the Department of Homeland Security to use an expanded category of sources to ensure that an ESTA applicant is truly coming to the US for reasons authorized under ESTA. The expanded sources include "publicly available sources, such as social media."
This expanded ability to search through social media, such as Facebook or LinkedIn could turn up all kinds of information that may affect your ability to come to the United States on ESTA. This includes proof that you really are coming to the US to work or that you engage in illicit activity that makes you inadmissible to the US. A single denial of an ESTA application can cause you additional headaches as you will be required to apply for, and receive, a proper visa for all future travel, so it is important to follow the law and apply only when you are eligible based on your travel plans.
If you have doubts about whether or not your intended travel or criminal history could lead to a denial, we encourage you to speak to an attorney before completing your application. Contact us today for more information.