Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Definition

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program of the United States Government which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The program applies to the 50 U.S. states as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, with limited application to other U.S. territories.

When was the Visa Waiver Program created?

The Visa Waiver Program was created in 1986 with the aim of facilitating tourism and short-term business visits to the United States, and allowing the United States Department of State to focus consular resources on addressing higher risks.

The United Kingdom became the first country to participate in the Visa Waiver Program in July 1988, followed by Japan on 16 December 1988. In October 1989, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany were added to the VWP.

In 1991, more European countries joined the Program - Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, San Marino and Spain - as well as New Zealand (the first country from Oceania). In 1993, Brunei became the second Asian country to be admitted to the Program.

On 1 April 1995, Ireland was added to the VWP. In 1996, Australia and Argentina (the first Latin American country) joined, although Argentina was later removed in 2002. On 30 September 1997, Slovenia was added. On 9 August 1999, Portugal, Singapore and Uruguay joined the program, although Uruguay was subsequently removed in 2003.

As result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration decided to tighten entry requirements into the United States by requiring foreign visitors entering under the Visa Waiver Program to present a machine-readable passport upon arrival. Starting on 26 October 2006, travellers entering the US under the Visa Waiver Program are required to present a biometric passport if their passport was issued on or after that date.

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