Visa Waiver Program Update

Our practice does not normally involve giving advice to those travelling on the Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) because these cases are very basic and a lawyer’s advice really isn’t needed unless there is a complicating issue such as if a person has a previous US immigration violation or criminal history. But, as you may know, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 was signed into law on December 18, 2015. This new Act established new eligibility requirements for travel under the VWP adding additional restrictions for passport holders of VWP countries for those who have either:

  1. traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 1, 2011 OR
  2. who are passport holders of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.

These restrictions do not apply to VWP travelers who were present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria to perform military service in the armed forces of a VWP country, or in order to carry out official duties as a full-time employee of the government of a VWP country. These exceptions do not apply to the dual national restriction.

As with most changes in the immigration law, these new restrictions bring up more questions than solutions. On January 22, 2016 the US Customs and Border Protection, the US agency that administers the VWP, issued a set of FAQs which address several issues such as revocation of authorization to travel under the VWP and those who have either had their ESTA revoked or believe that on of the restrictions apply to them, must apply for a visitor visa prior to trying to enter the US. The FAQs indicated that those who fall into the dual national category were to receive an email on or about January 21, 2016 that their current ESTA is no longer valid.

Based solely on the inquiries we’ve received at our office, it appears that, even though CBP indicates that these new restrictions will not affect the vast majority of VWP visitors, there are many people who are caught up in the new restrictions and are unable to travel until they receive a visa to visit the US. Fortunately, it appears that the US Embassy in London is allowing for expedited appointments for those who are subject to the new restrictions and/or who have had their ESTAs revoked.

If you require advice relating to a visitor visa application because you are subject to the new VWP restrictions, please call our office at 020 7092 6830 to initially chat to one of our Paralegals and possibly book a consultation. If you require assistance with a basic US visitor visa application that does not involve a complex issue, you should refer to your local US Embassy or Consulate’s web site for more information.