What is a Visa Waiver Program?

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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 14 February 2020
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The Visa Waiver Program is an initiative that was created in 1986 by the United States to promote business and tourism travel from select countries to the U.S. This program allows citizens of chosen nations to visit for as long as 90 days without applying for a visa, a legal authorization to enter a country. The United States government only allows a small number of countries access to this waiver based on economic and social factors.

By creating the Visa Waiver Program, the U.S. aimed to make visiting easier for citizens of nations that it has determined to be qualified for the program. In the past, citizens planning to visit needed to apply for a visa in order to visit for any length of time. These documents restricted the travel and length of a visit for most individuals and often were difficult to obtain. The Visa Waiver Program does away with much of the complications and simply acts as a way to ensure that the traveler is not a security threat. This allows foreign vacationers and businessmen to spend as long as 90 days in the country without applying for visas.


As of 2010, there were 36 countries that met the requirements for the Visa Waiver Program. These are made up, primarily, of members of the European Union, Australia, Japan, South Korea and a few other nations. The United States constantly evaluates nations for admittance into the program and has accepted new members such as Greece and Bulgaria. No countries in Africa or South America were members of this program as of 2010.

In order to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, a country must meet a variety of requirements that the U.S. government has created. In order to supply citizens with this visa waiver, the country must meet security and law enforcement regulations. In addition, countries are expected to share national security data with the U.S., presumably to keep citizens of both countries safer. The U.S. government also points out that successfully meeting all these requirements does not necessarily guarantee a country entry into the program.

Individuals from qualifying countries are not automatically granted access, and they still must meet certain requirements, such as providing a valid passport, before entering the U.S. In addition, visitors must provide proof of air or sea travel on an approved carrier. Finally, the individual must provide proof of an ability to support themselves in the U.S. for the duration of the visit.


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