Changes to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (ESTA)

This is Stephanie of IMS, wishing you all a happy and wonderful new year.


It’s expected that the time before, during, and after holidays is a busy time for travel. Whether it’s for visiting family and friends, traveling for the sake of it, or year-end and year-beginning business, planes and consular offices are perpetually crowded.


Luckily, at least some of this stress can be skipped. Although not just for the holiday season (but certainly helpful), the United States offers the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA—a visa-waiver program available only to citizens of approved countries. This allows travelers to skip the long consular waits and paperwork and apply for travel authorization to the U.S. online.


However, in a recent congressional act signed into law on December 18, 2015, there are significant changes that may affect your travels. The major key points are as follows:


  1. All countries participating in the visa-waiver program (VWP) must issue electronic- and machine-readable passports.
  2. Individuals who have traveled to or lived in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan since March 1, 2011 are restricted from using this program. This also includes nationals of those countries. Individuals who are restricted must apply for a U.S. visa at their local consulate or embassy.
    1. Individuals who have traveled to or lived in these countries as a member of the military of a VWP country, or who worked as a government official for a VWP country, are able to use the ESTA program.

~H.R. 2029 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016


More countries may be added to the four listed above in the coming days, so please make sure to read the ESTA application questions carefully, and always answer honestly. If you are already pre-approved through ESTA, these new restrictions may affect your ability to travel, so it’s recommended to check your authorization’s current validity.


Travel safely, wherever you may go this year!