Changes to Visa Waiver Program begin to take effect

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The U.S. Government has begun implementing changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that were included in the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

With the changes to the VWP, people from the 38 Countries designated for the VWP (mostly western European countries) and who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan will no longer be eligible for entry into the United States under the VWP. Dual nationals of a Visa Waiver Country and one of the 4 countries listed above who currently hold a valid Electronic Travel System Authorization (ESTA) for travel under the VWP will begin receiving email notifications that their ESTA clearance has been revoked. It is estimated that approximately 16,000 people will have their ESTA clearances revoked under the new policy.

The changes to the VWP also limit the ability of individuals who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since March of 2011. The U.S. government will not revoke the ESTA clearances for individuals who have traveled to these countries within the past 5 years. Instead, if and when these individuals arrive at a U.S. Port of Entry, they will be processed and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will determine whether they qualify for an exemption, such as travel for government or military purposes for travel to Syria or Sudan, or valid business, government or military purpose for travel to Iran or Iraq.

Individuals who do not qualify for an exemption will be able to apply for a waiver to gain entry to the United States at the Port of Entry.

People who find themselves ineligible to travel to the U.S. under the VWP due to their Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian or Sudanese nationality or travel to one of those 4 countries can still apply for a B1/B2 Visitor Visa to travel to the United States. The B1/B2 Visa Application process requires an in-person interview and is more lengthy, costly and rigorous than enrollment in ESTA.

For more information on the on-going changes to the Visa Waiver Program, please contact Kolko & Associates, P.C.

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Kolko & Associates is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, German, and Slovak, and we can arrange for translators in any other language.