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Countries Clamour to Get Into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program

visa application paper with a passport ontop

There’s probably no better example of the neighbourly relations shared by Canada and the U.S.A. than the fact that citizens of each country have enjoyed visa-free travel across their common border for as long as anyone can remember. Canada is the only country considered ‘visa-free’ by the U.S..

Needless-to-say, many other countries would like to enjoy the same visa privileges. In the 1980s, as globalization and free trade became popular ways to expand their ever-growing markets, the U.S. government introduced the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of countries that are part of the program to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

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In July, 1988, the United Kingdom was the first country added to the program in. Membership has grown slowly to now include 38 countries.

It’s Not Just about Travel

While the VWP helps boost the U.S. tourist industry, that’s not the main purpose of the program. The U.S. is always interested in new markets to fuel its economy. One of the requirements for joining the VWP is that the country applying for eligibility must offer similar travel rights to U.S. citizens. It all results in an increase of business-related travel, which helps boost the economies of all the countries involved.

Other Requirements for VWP Eligibility

Before applying, countries must meet certain criteria to be included in the VWP. Among others, they include:

  • A High-Income Economy – Countries must have a per capita income above US $12,746 (2013)
  • A High Human Development Index – According to criteria published by the U.N.
  • Generally regarded to be a developed country
  • Must issue machine-readable and biometric passports1

Individual Travelers

Even if a country is accepted into the program, that does not mean that all citizens can travel to the U.S. without a visa. Individual travelers must meet the following criteria, among others:

  • Electronic System for Travel Authorization – ESTA’s were implemented to help boost security after 9/11.
  • Have a Return or Onward Ticket – A return ticket must be presented when a traveler enters the U.S. by air or sea.
  • Not Have a Record for a Crime of Moral Turpitude – While there are some exemptions, they are determined at the point of entry, which means the traveler would be ineligible at the time they apply for an ESTA. All travelers with a criminal record for a crime of moral turpitude are advised to apply for a visa to make sure they get permission to enter the U.S. upon arrival

U.S. Entry Waiver

As another benefit of the close relations between Canada and the U.S., Canadians with criminal records were the first in the world to be allowed to apply for and use a U.S. Entry Waiver for travel to the U.S.. Armed with an entry Waiver, criminal record holders can travel across the U.S. border with the same documentation as any Canadian citizen. All travelers should remember that entry to the U.S. may be denied for a number of reasons. There is no guarantee that any traveler will be allowed entry at any given time.