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Visa Waiver Program

Can I just come on ESTA?

ESTA is not a visa status. ESTA refers to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization that is used when an individual applies for the Visa Waiver Program to enter in B-1 or B-2 status without having to obtain a visa stamp. the The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for 90 days or less without obtaining a U.S. visa. Those entering for business purposes are admitted with an annotation of WB (Waiver Business). Those entering for purposes of pleasure as defined in Foreign Affairs Manual are admitted with an annotation of WT (Waiver Tourism).

Visa Waiver Program eligibility requirements:

  • Travel purpose must be permitted on a Visitor (B) visa
  • Limited to 90 days or less
  • Must be a citizen or national of participant country
  • Other Requirements
    • Must have authorization under ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization)
    • Have the correct type of passport
  • There are restrictions related to national security (ie. dual nationals of countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism; those who previously violated status or have been deported from U.S.)

For a current list of a VWP designated country, visit the Department of State website.

If there will be research conducted that is not considered “independent,” J-1 visa sponsorship will be required through ISSS.

Is the Visa Waiver Program always the right option?


  • Electronic approval
  • No need for consular appointment
  • Minimal information required – faster
  • Low cost


  • 90 day-limit
  • No possibility of extension
  • No appeal rights if CBP denies admission at the port of entry
  • Not allowed: Collaborative research or musicians providing public performance; patient contact/care

What if I am Canadian?

Citizens of Canada traveling to the US for temporary business or pleasure do not require a visa stamp. Permanent residents (aka landed immigrants) of Canada must have a non-immigrant visa unless the permanent resident is a national of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program.