The Visa Waver Program (VWP) is an initiative by the Department of Homeland Security that allows citizens from participating countries to visit the United States without a visa.
The program was created in 1989 to encourage tourism and short business visits. Under the rules of the program, eligible travelers can stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days without a visa.
Implemented by the U.S. Federal government and administered by the Department of Homeland Security, the Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from the following countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa, but with the corresponding requirements:
- Travelers must be citizens or nationals of a participating country. VWP-designated countries include Andorra, Australia, Germany, France, and Japan.
- Travelers must have travel authorization from the Electronic System for Travel
- Authorization (ESTA) and paid the processing and authorization fees. The ESTA is in place to enhance the safety and security of the VWP program.
- Travelers must have machine-readable passports that are valid for a minimum of six months prior to departure. Depending on their country of origin, travelers might be required to present an e-Passport with an integrated chip.
The VWP program has its share of critics, however, with some members of Congress listing potential security issues. Senator Dan Coats recently introduced a bill that, if passed, would suspend the VWP for countries that do not comply with information-sharing agreements, tightening clearance procedures, and authorization of the Secretary of State to revoke the passports of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. However, certain individuals and organizations have come out in support of the program as it is, stressing that the VWP is actually doing the opposite of what Coats fears, and that the VWP strengthens alliances between countries and facilitates better screening of U.S. visitors while benefiting the country’s economy.
For now, citizens from participating countries can still reap the benefits of the VWP.