The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program.
Effective Jan. 12, 2009, citizens or nationals from all VWP countries will be required to obtain an approved travel authorization via ESTA to be eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP.
The Visa Waiver Program vs. J-1 Exchange Visitor Status
UC Berkeley guidelines require all international visitors participating in research activities for at least 21 days to come as J-1 Exchange Visitors. While U.S. immigration inspectors have wide discretion in granting entry to the U.S., they do not view the Visa Waiver Program as appropriate for someone coming to a university to conduct any research, especially if it is full-time for an extended period. In addition, many embassies and consulates now require the J-1 visa be used for such purposes. It is recommended that prospective researchers consult with the academic department at UC Berkeley in conjunction with Berkeley International Office to determine the most appropriate status for the proposed visit.
Upon entry into the U.S., visitors are given either a WT (waiver-tourist) or a WB (waiver- business) status that will be indicated on the I-94 Arrival Departure Record. There are two restrictions on visa waiver status that potential users should be aware of:
- The 90-day stay in the U.S. cannot, in any circumstances, be extended.
- It is never possible to change from the visa waiver status to any another nonimmigrant status without departing from the U.S.
Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
Partipating countries are subject to change, so it's best to check with the U.S. Department of State for the most current information.