Virginia, US
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| Natasha Willams

Waive Goodbye to Waiting Times

As a follow-up to my last blog regarding curtailments to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the US Government has added further restrictions on using the program.

The Department of Homeland Security has included travellers to Libya, Somalia, and Yemen since March 1, 2011, as those also prohibited from using the VWP unless they qualify for an exemption or obtain a waiver. These three countries join Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria as ‘countries of concern’ subject to restrictions on VWP travel.

New changes to Visa Waiver Program

The current VWP application found online at the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) asks if you have ever travelled to, or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan on or after March 1, 2011. We are now seeing travellers who answer ‘yes’ to this have their VWP applications denied. These individuals must, therefore, apply for a B-1/B-2 visa at a US Consulate overseas before they can travel to the US. Not knowing about these changes has led to a flurry of travellers needing B-1/B-2 visa appointments at short notice.

US Consulates across Asia-Pacific including those in Singapore, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and India have recognized the unforeseen need to apply for a B-1/B-2 visa by allowing travellers who have been affected by these changes to request an expedited visa appointment. Expedited appointments are usually reserved for urgent and unforeseen medical or business travel, but with the recent changes to the VWP, an ESTA denial is now also a qualification.

Qualifications for an expedited visa appointment

In order to qualify for an expedited visa appointment in these circumstances, you must be a citizen of a VWP country, have received notice that you are no longer eligible to travel to the US under the program, show that your travel to the US is imminent, and be either a dual national of Iraq, Iran, Sudan or Syria, or have travelled to Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, or Somalia after March 1, 2011. You must include a copy of the message you received regarding your ESTA denial.

For those travellers who are approved for their B-1/B-2 visas, US Consulates are also issuing visas and processing passport return more quickly than non-expedited cases. Standard processing time for visa issuance and passport return across Asia-Pacific is 3-7 business days. However, if you attend an appointment for a B-1/B-2 visa due to ESTA denial based on the new restrictions, some US Consulates have been allowing for next day passport pick up in person at the Consulate. This is an extraordinary situation and a welcome solution to what is causing many families and business travellers to have to reschedule US vacations and postpone business meetings at a high financial, social and business cost.

Of course, even with the expedited options available, as the US Government continues to make changes to the VWP, we suggest registering online at ESTA and planning your visa needs well in advance of your departure date to ensure you do not face any unforeseen delays or cancelations.

Fragomen’s US Consular Team in Sydney can assist with queries related to US travel from across Asia-Pacific.