The Visa Waiver Program
Individuals traveling to the United States for business or tourism purposes may be eligible to apply for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) instead of requiring a visitor visa, such as the B-1 or B-2. Through this program, citizens from 38 countries are enabled to travel to the US for stays up to 90 days or less without a visa. Those countries, in turn, must allow US citizens to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa. To determine your eligibility for the VWP, you must be authorized through the automated, web-based system ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) through the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection.
If you are from one of the following countries, you may be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program:
* unless also citizens or nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan.
** must have unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
Trusted Traveler Programs
Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI are the three major programs that provide expedited travel to pre-approved travelers to the US.
To become a member of the Global Entry program, a traveler must undergo a rigorous background check and interview process. Applicants now have the option for Enrollment on Arrival, meaning a traveler who is “conditionally-approved” may forego scheduling an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, and instead complete this step upon arrival at a participating airport. As of 2016, all Global Entry travelers must have an e-passport, which enhances security. US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for Global Entry, along with citizens from the following countries:
Travelers from the United States and Canada may be eligible for the NEXUS program, which allows members to use NEXUS kiosks in Canada and Global Entry kiosks in the US. Expedited processing applies at designated air, land, and marine ports of entry. US and Canadian citizens and permanent residents are eligible for NEXUS, along with Mexican nationals who are members of Viajero Confiable. To apply for NEXUS, an individual should create a GOES (Global Online Enrollment System) account and complete an application. Once it is completed, it will be reviewed by the US and Canadian border protection services and, if conditionally approved, will lead to an interview at a NEXUS Enrollment Center.
The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI, allows members to use designated processing lanes when crossing southern land borders, use NEXUS kiosks when entering the US from Canada, or use Global Entry kiosks when Entering the US. The SENTRI program has no age or citizenship requirements, though individuals under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian’s consent. To apply, one must create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account and schedule an interview at a SENTRI Enrollment Center.
Certain factors may be cause for ineligibility in any one of the above mentioned programs. These include providing false or incomplete information on the application, being convicted of a crime or having a pending charge/outstanding warrant, violating customs laws, being inadmissible under immigration regulation, or being of high risk. Speak to an immigration lawyer to learn more about your eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program and Trusted Traveler Programs, as well as which program may be best for you.