The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) combines a strong security process with our nation’s long-standing desire to attract both business and leisure travelers to our shores. Eligible residents of allied countries are rigorously pre-screened and vetted against multiple law enforcement and security databases before approval is given for visa-free travel to the United States for up to 90 days. They also must obtain preauthorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for entry into the United States.
To be part of the VWP, countries must agree to, and uphold, the following security measures:
- Share information about known or suspected terrorists and criminals with U.S. authorities, as well as maintain high standards for transportation security, border security and document integrity.
- Allow U.S. inspections of their security standards, protocols and apparatus to ensure compliance with the highest security practices.
- Enter data on all lost and stolen passports into INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database. No such requirements exist for countries that do not participate in the VWP.
- Issue machine-readable passports that conform to stringent international aviation security standards. For countries admitted since 2007, e-passports are mandatory.
- Comply with information-sharing agreements with the United States on travelers who may pose a terrorist or criminal threat and on lost and stolen passport reporting.
- Screen individual using programs like the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding a flight to the United States.
The United States conducts comprehensive reviews of all VWP countries, at least every other year, to ensure ongoing compliance. Such reviews can result (and have resulted) in membership revocation or other conditions placed on a country’s membership in the program.
Recent data released by DHS found that less than one percent (0.60%) of travelers from VWP countries overstay their expected departure, lower than the overstay rate of visitors from non-VWP countries (1.9%).
An overwhelming majority of national security experts believe that the VWP is a pivotal contributor to protecting the American homeland and public, ensuring a strong and secure nation. It is also plays an important role in U.S. foreign relations and in bolstering the American economy.
The VWP is instrumental to facilitating international travel to the U.S., which is America’s number one services export. Overseas visitors (international visitors other than those from our next-door neighbors Canada and Mexico) spend billions of dollars that support American communities and generate tax revenues that support essential services like public schools and fire departments.
In 2016, 22 million visitors to the U.S.—60 percent of all overseas visitors—arrived through the VWP. While visiting the U.S., they generated $100 billion in travel exports for the U.S. economy, supporting nearly half a million American jobs.
The U.S. travel community believes unwaveringly in a security first posture: After all, without security, there is no travel.