Important changes to the regulations for entering the USA – ESTA/Visa Waiver Program


On 21 January 2016, a law went into force providing for the following amendments to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

Persons with dual citizenship, who are also a citizen of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, are excluded from participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

Persons, who have spent time in Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria after 1 March 2011, are excluded from participating in the Visa Waiver Program. Only travellers visiting one of these countries to carry out official duties as a full-time employee of the federal government or to perform military service in the armed forces are excluded from this.

ESTA approval previously granted to the aforementioned persons shall be revoked with immediate effect. Travellers with dual citizenship with valid ESTA approval to date of whom the US authorities are aware due to their ESTA application shall be informed of the revocation of their ESTA approval via email.

According to the current information, these persons must apply for a visa to enter the USA.

We therefore strongly advise the aforementioned persons to contact the responsible US American diplomatic mission in Germany when planning travel to the USA and certainly before travelling to the USA and regardless of whether they already have ESTA approval, and to apply for a US visa as required.

The US government is currently reviewing the extent to which other persons, who travelled to one of the aforementioned countries after 1 March 2011, can be excluded in individual cases from the tightened regulations that have now gone into force (e.g. journalists, NGO workers, employees of international and regional organisations, business travellers to Iran and Iraq).

(Source: on 21 January 2016)

Since 1 August 2008, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) has been available online for all citizens and eligible nationals of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to apply for advance authorisation to enter the United States of America under the VWP. Effective 12 January 2009, all persons travelling under the VWP have been required to apply for electronic travel authorisation prior to boarding a vehicle conveying them to United States of America by air or sea under the conditions of the VWP.

How the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) works

Register on the ESTA website and complete the online application form. Travellers are encouraged to apply as early as possible. The web-based system will prompt you to provide the same basic biographical data and answer questions regarding entitlement to visa-free travel as the green I-94W form. The application to register and obtain approval should be submitted no later than three (3) days prior to travel. In most cases, applicants will receive notification of whether their application has been approved or denied within a few seconds, however we still recommend applying for travel authorisation as soon as possible.

  • Authorisation approved: your travel has been authorised.
  • Authorisation denied: you must apply to a US embassy or consulate for a non-immigrant visa before travelling to the United States.
  • Authorisation pending: you will need to check the ESTA website for updates on the status of your travel authorisation within 72 hours for a final response.

Approved travel authorisation via ESTA:

  • has been mandatory since 12 January 2009 for all persons travelling under the VWP;
  • is valid for up to two years unless revoked or until the traveller’s passport expires, whichever should come first;
  • is valid for multiple entries into the United States. When future trips are planned or if the applicant’s destination or itinerary should change after approval has been granted, this information can easily be updated on the ESTA website;
  • is not a guarantee of admission to the United States at a port of entry. ESTA approval merely authorises a traveller to travel to the United States without a visa under the VWP.

ESTA enhances the security of the VWP and allows the United States to maintain and expand participation in the programme.

After 12 January 2009, persons who fail to apply for travel authorisation before travelling or who have been denied a travel permit in the ESTA procedure may be denied boarding, experience delays at the border, or be refused entry to the United States. The VWP is administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It enables citizens and eligible nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa.

The fee of US $ 14 per ESTA application is made up of two amounts:
– US $ 4 processing fee
– US $ 10 approval fee
If your ESTA application is denied, you will only be charged the processing fee, so US $ 4.

The countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

Waiver of rights
Biometric identifiers (e.g. fingerprints and photographs) must be provided during customs processing upon arrival in the United States for each entry into the country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Provision of these identifiers is deemed a waiver of all rights to review or appeal the decision reached by a United States Customs and Border Protection officer regarding the right to admission or to contest any removal action arising from an application for entry under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) other than on the basis of an application for asylum.

More information can be found here.