Visa Waiver Program
Created in 1986, the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows pre-screened, pre-approved citizens from 38 participating countries to visit America for up to 90 days for business or leisure. The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is authorized to designate countries eligible to participate in the VWP, based on a determination that the country meets the applicable requirements. The U.S. government supports expansion to countries able to meet the statutory standards and are willing and able to enter into a closer partnership with the United States.
Expanding the VWP by extending eligibility to additional countries beyond the 38 nations that currently participate would strengthen the security of the United States. Travelers entering the United States under the VWP are required to be pre-screened and pre-approved through DHS’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Participating countries are required to issue passports that conform to international security standards and report information on all lost or stolen passports to U.S. authorities via INTERPOL. Participating countries also must share information with U.S. authorities on travelers who may pose a terrorist or criminal threat.
By facilitating low-risk travel from friendly countries into America, the VWP drives U.S. economic growth, spurs job creation, and creates a more positive impression of America worldwide. In 2013, more than 19 million visitors to the United States (60 percent of all overseas visitors) – i.e., international visitors other than those from our next-door neighbors Canada and Mexico – arrived through the VWP. These visitors spent $79 billion, supported more than half a million American jobs, and generated $13 billion in payroll and $12 billion in government tax revenues.
The program has also directly boosted foreign direct investment (FDI) into America from participating countries. After gaining VWP status, FDI into the United States from South Korea, Singapore and Ireland have enjoyed significant, rapid gains. Additionally, during the five years before entering the VWP, overall U.S. merchandise exports to Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and South Korea increased 36 percent slower than overall U.S. merchandise exports to the world. These exports have now grown to equal the global average.
U.S. TRAVEL POSITION
The VWP is a proven program that increases foreign travel to America, enhances security, and strengthens our economy. The U.S. Travel Association advocates continued expansion of the VWP under its current parameters, which include improved security information sharing between the United States and visa waiver countries on criminal records, verifiable passport issuance, and a visa refusal rate of 10 percent.
Further expansion of the program will:
The bipartisan Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act, H.R. 1354, currently pending before Congress, would modernize the VWP by updating eligibility requirements to allow more travelers from U.S. allies such as Poland, Israel and Brazil to enjoy visa-free entry. Click here to see more, and read more about the JOLT Act here.
Read more about the VWP.