On January 21, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began the process of implementing changes to the traveler eligibility requirements of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) mandated by the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, as enacted on December 18, 2015. This will mean that a few individuals who previously traveled to the United States for tourism- or business-related purposes on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will now be required to apply for a B1/B2 U.S. visa. Previously issued ESTA authorizations will be revoked over the next few weeks and individuals will receive emails to that effect. More information on this change can also be found on the Embassy website at http://ustraveldocs.com/de.
Who should now apply for a visa?
As you will see on the Embassy website, changes to the ESTA program will primarily affect any citizen of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country, including Germany, who is also a dual citizen of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
Additionally, changes to this program also affect any citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country, such as Germany, who has traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 2011.
Individuals who fall into either of these two above-mentioned categories who wish to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business purposes will need to apply for a so-called B1/B2 visa. As mentioned above, they will no longer be able to fly to U.S. solely with an ESTA authorization. And if an ESTA authorization has already been issued, it will be revoked.
Current ESTA holders are encouraged to logon to their ESTA accounts to check their status.
How, where, and when should affected individuals apply for a visa?
Individuals here in Germany who are potentially affected by these changes can make appointments with the closest U.S. Consular Section – at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin or at our U.S. Consulates in Frankfurt or Munich – at their earliest convenience. For information on how to apply, please visit our website at http://ustraveldocs.com/de.
Those affected by these changes who plan travel to the United States in the coming months may wish to apply for their B1/B2 visas soon. If you are travelling immediately, submit your visa application and then please make sure you upload your ESTA revocation (if you have received one) when requesting an emergency visa appointment.
Advantages of a U.S. visa over ESTA
There are certain advantages of traveling to the U.S. for tourism or business with a B1/B2 visa, rather than with an ESTA authorization, including the following:
- Most B1/B2 visas are valid for ten years as opposed to ESTA authorizations, which are only valid for two years.
- Business travelers and tourists in possession of a B1/B2 visa are generally authorized to stay in the United States for up to six months, as opposed to 90 days on ESTA. They additionally have the potential of adjusting their visa status once in the U.S.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have further questions, please take a look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) related to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 at http://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program/visa-waiver-program-improvement-and-terrorist-travel-prevention-act-faq. (Note: This is currently available in English, but we will be translating the FAQ into German shortly.)
As always, the U.S. Mission in Germany endeavors to facilitate travel to the U.S. for a variety of purposes including business, study, tourism and investment, and will continue to do so.