Visa Waiver Program and ESTA
In an effort to beef up security, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has created the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to add another level of screening for those foreigners trying to come into the United States. The ESTA is an electronic system that determines whether or not visitors are eligible to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without having to apply for a visa, given they meet all requirements. Before we go any further, let us make one distinction; an ESTA is NOT a visa. When travel is approved by the ESTA, it gives a traveler permission to board a U.S. bound carrier under the VWP.
An application that is ESTA approved is valid for a period of two years, or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. In addition, a travel authorization is valid for multiple trips without having to re-apply for another ESTA. However, a traveler is only allowed to stay 90 days at a time while successional visits should be spread out with a reasonable amount of time in between so that you are not suspected of trying to live in the U.S.
Often times when travelers are abroad they may want to change their status of VWP to F-1 visa for purposes of pursuing their education. Unfortunately, a person on a VWP cannot change his or her status while still in the United States. He or she will have to go back to their home country and apply for a visa through their U.S. consulate.
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