Legal Guide

Comprehensive Guide to US Visa Law in 2019

Have you ever wondered what would have Columbus thought when he started on his journey which ultimately ended in the discovery of the Great nation of America?

Who knows what he thought, even if Columbus had not found the continent, somebody else would have done it. But the fact that since its discovery the United States of America has risen up to become one of the greatest powers in the world.

But like Columbus you won’t get a free entry pass into the country, you will need a Visa only to step inside the nation. So, without further ado let’s discuss what are your options for gaining entry into the USA.

The basics First:

What is ESTA?

Electronic System for Travel Authorization is to be understood in association with the Visa Waiver Program.

ESTA is an authorization procedure whereby the applicants do not need to go through the rigorous Visa approval program. Instead, they only need to apply for the Visa online by filling out the ESTA form and will receive the authentication through the same.

The ESTA visa approval is subject to the condition that the individual looking to enter the USA territory does not pose a risk to the safety of the country.

Visa Waiver Program:

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 38 countries to visit the United States for a maximum period of 90 days in one go. Take note that you do not need to have a Visa to do so, the ESTA allows every applicant to visit the nation without a Visa.

For utmost caution and security, the Department of Homeland Security oversees the whole program with the help of the State Department.

VWP is akin to a quid pro quo situation, the countries which are allowed to apply for ESTA have to do the same for the US citizens. Meaning that any US national can also visit each of these VWP countries for a 90 day period without a visa. The duration and validity of an ESTA are kept at 2 years time. Another aspect that is considered in this is your passport’s expiration date. Whichever of these conditions are met first, according to that your ESTA will reach termination.

What’s the Difference between ESTA and normal Visa?

Well, by now you must have understood that the ESTA visa is applicable only with the Visa Waiver Program which is limited to only a handful of countries. In contrast, the normal visa is open to all the countries but that entails a long and complex process of documentation. This includes a valid passport, proof of affordability, the intent of return, DS160 application page, interview letter, travel itinerary, bank records, account statements, Tax numbers, and whatnot.

So, visiting the USA with an ESTA is much easier than opting for a normal visa. But unfortunately, the ESTA is only applicable for 38 countries across the globe as of yet.


Even though you patronize with a VWP eligible country, this does not mean that can just land at JFK and start exploring the city. There are some documents and other conditions that need to be met.

  • Most importantly you need a valid passport of your country and for the ESTA that country has to be a member of the VWP.
  • Secondly, you will require to submit your traveling dates and return tickets.
  • Complete ESTA form filled out through the online portal.
  • For the ESTA application you do not need to provide with their detailed itinerary, but only the point of stay in the country. And if you have planned a trip across the country, then you need to provide with the addresses where you will be staying for the whole trip.

NB: In a rare case, if you are traveling by road under the purview of VWP, then you need to fill out another form that is I-94.

Even though your application is top-notch and you have fulfilled all the sundry requirements, the approval is subject to the customs and border protection (CBP) officer who will have the last say.

What does the new Act impose?

In December 2015, the US government initiated new legislation, Visa Waiver Program Improvement, and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015.

There is no such thing that you cannot travel to the US if you are not eligible due to the new considerations of this Act. If you are not able to visit the US under VWP, then you can always apply for a regular visa which of course will entail a personal interview and other rules.

Consequently, the conditions which restrict a traveler’s entry into the US under the VWP are:

  • Citizens of the member countries of the Visa Waiver Program who have been to or are currently residing in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. So, if you have traveled to any of these countries on or after 1st March 2011 then you cannot visit the US with ESTA. You will have to file under the normal visa procedure.

However, if you have been in any of these countries on official government business or under military service, then you are not restricted to visit by ESTA.

The Timeframe and fee to apply for an ESTA Visa:

Earlier the US government allowed for real-time application and approval under the VWP. But come December 2018, the real-time application has been eliminated. Instead, now every traveler filing out the ESTA form has to do so no later than 72 hours prior to their arrival.

As far as the fee is concerned you are required to pay a $4 processing fee and a $10 authorization fee.

Steps to be taken when the ESTA Visa is denied:

Apart from the condition mentioned in lieu of the new Act, your ESTA application can be denied due to a few other reasons. This includes:

  • Not providing key information in the form which is necessary.
  • Giving false information in the ESTA form.

Even though you are applying well under the limitations of the duration and validity period of an ESTA, acceptance to an application is based on the security factor. If under the application review it is found that you can somehow pose a risk to the security of the nation, your application is tantamount to be denied.

Here’s what you can do after your application is denied at first:

  • Reapplying: You can apply again, but take caution as not to provide false information only to get approval. Doing this can lead to permanent ineligibility to apply for ESTA.
  • Normal Visa: If you are applying again with the same circumstances and details, your application will be rejected again on a similar pretext. So, it is better to go for a normal visa application for entry in the US.

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