A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Visa Waiver Program Subject to Stricter Vetting Process

Frequent flyers under the Visa Waiver Program will likely face longer processing times. This is due to planned changes to the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), beginning in December 2018.

The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the States and take tourist or business visits of less than 90 days without first obtaining a visa. The ESTA is a tool that aids the visa waiver adjudication process. The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, determines whether an ESTA application is approved and for how long the traveler is admitted to the States. An implementation plan released in August describes how the government plans to update the ESTA vetting process.

The proposed plan is meant to implement the Trump Administration's National Security Presidential Memorandum-9 (NSPM-9), ''Optimizing the Use of Federal Government Information in Support of the National Vetting Enterprise". Phase one of the plan is to develop standardized processes to share information among the National Visa Center (NVC), Adjudication Agencies, and Vetting Support Agencies. The purposes of these processes are: (1) for Adjudication Agencies to share information with the Intelligence Community and law enforcement, (2) for Vetting Support Agencies to share analysis results with Adjudication Agency analysts in a shared location, and (3) for these analysts to provide feedback on these results. A management system for NVC processes and for ensuring compliance with legal and privacy and civil liberties standards is also included in this plan.

Phase two will start in 2019 and will scale phase one mechanisms up. This includes incorporating more Vetting Request Sets. More information will probably be disclosed in the near future and will depend on how phase one develops.

The ESTA application itself will remain the same for now. Applicants will likely experience longer waits, so it would be wise to submit applications earlier. Lengthier waits should also be taken into consideration when planning trips.  

The Visa Waiver Program is a great way for frequent international travelers to enter the U.S. without going through the lengthy visa application process.  Citizens or nationals of many countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP including Hungary, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovenia, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, France, Malta, Taiwan, Germany, Monaco, United Kingdom,  Greece, The Netherlands, etc.  Chili became the 38th country eligible for VWP in 2014. 

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