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Business Traveler Alert: Changes to the Visa Waiver Program

Immigration Law Alert Grant Sovern, Otto W. Immel, Lisa D. Duran, Maria F. Kallmeyer

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency ("CBP") recently announced two important changes to the Visa Waiver Program ("VWP") for foreign travelers coming to the U.S.

First, beginning on September 8, 2010, business and leisure travelers entering the U.S. under the VWP will be charged a new operational and travel promotion fee of $14.00 to register for ESTA or renew their ESTA registration. ESTA is an electronic travel authorization that all citizens of the VWP countries must obtain prior to boarding a plane or ship to the United States under the VWP. An ESTA application must be submitted online at any time prior to travel. An approved ESTA travel authorization is valid for up to two years - or until the traveler's passport expires - and is valid for multiple entries into the U.S. However, it does not guarantee admission to the United States. It only authorizes the traveler to board the carrier bound for the United States. CBP will still make the final determination of eligibility at the port of entry.

Second, CBP has recently begun a transition to paperless processing for VWP travelers arriving by air or sea who have obtained ESTA authorization. If a traveler is admitted under the new automated process at a designated port of entry, the CBP officer will stamp the applicant's passport with a United States admission stamp and annotate it with the class of admission and the date admitted. Yet, the applicant will not receive a green I-94W as was the case in the past. The traveler's departure from the United States will then be documented electronically.

The following 36 countries currently participate in the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. More information about the Visa Waiver Program is available here.

For more information on the VWP or any other immigration issue, please contact a member of our Quarles & Brady Immigration Team, Maria Kallmeyer (Chicago) at (312) 715-5009 / maria.kallmeyer@quarles.com, Grant Sovern (Madison) at (608) 283-2668 / grant.sovern@quarles.com, Lisa Duran (Phoenix) at (602) 229-5225 / lisa.duran@quarles.com or Otto Immel (Naples/Tampa) at (239) 659-5041 / otto.immel@quarles.com.