International travel has become quite complicated in recent years. As a foreign national, travel to the United States is no longer as straightforward as it used to be. For the residents of some specific countries, however, there exists a program at the federal level of the U.S. government, called the Visa Waiver Program. The VWP, as it is more commonly referenced, allows the citizens of these nations to travel to (or through) the United States for up to 90 days. This can be done, with select approval, regardless of whether the trip is for business or pleasure.

There are a few important facts to understand about the Visa Waiver Program.

What Countries are Included in the VWP?

Generally speaking, countries that are included in the VWP are considered to be “developed countries” by the American government. They are classified as high-income economies, with a high Human Development Index, or HDI. The HDI considers several points of information regarding the averages of a country’s population, such as personal income, life expectancy, and education. As of this writing, there are 38 nationalities eligible for the VWP, including most European Union countries; notable exceptions are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. Other countries which impart eligibility are Andorra, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan.

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How Does the Program Work?

Program countries are subject to change; at present, the list of included nations is determined by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security, both at the federal level of the United States government. After the expansion of the European Union, the EU lobbied to have its newly added member countries added to the VWP, with the result being a process known as the Visa Waiver Roadmap. Argentina, Brazil, BUlgaria, Cyprus, Israel, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Uruguay are currently under consideration for addition to the list, with Argentina and Uruguay having previously been VWP countries.

Individual applications for VWP may be approved or rejected based upon prior personal history and entry interviews; to date, the overstay ratio (individuals who risk future non-admission due to overstaying the 90-day limit) stands at an average of less than three-fourths of one percent. Hungary has the highest overstay ratio, at 2.45%, while the lowest goes to Andorra at 0.24%.

Additional Requirements for VWP Travelers

If you wish to enter the United States via the Visa Waiver Program, a biometric passport is required. These are combined paper and electronic passports, which contain biometric information that can be used to precisely identify an individual: they are far more difficult, complicated, and expensive to forge than a traditional passport. Similarly, VWP travelers must have individual passports; it is not permitted, for example, to allow entry to a child on a parent’s passport, for the purposes of the waiver program. Permission to enter the U.S. by VWP should be requested at least 3 business days in advance via ESTA, the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

The waiver program is similar to other programs present throughout the developed world, such as those maintained by Australia and the European Union. It allows for individuals to enter the country more conveniently, whether to conduct business or to contribute to the American economy through tourism. Modern information technology has substantially reduced the risk of overstays and other potential security breaches, while making access to and maintenance of the Visa Waiver Program much more efficient and affordable.