The vibrant cities, esteemed schools and fantastic landscape are among the features that attract visitors to the US every year. Be it through work, rest or play, there are ample opportunities to maximise your stay in America. However, this can only be achieved if you have prepared your travel arrangements beforehand, and a type of US visa is usually required. This process can be as easy as you want to make it, as long as you know what you’re doing.
The route taken to enter the US all depends on the purpose of the trip and the amount of time it will take. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) means that the process of a visa application may be unnecessary altogether; people from certain countries, the UK included, do not need a visa if they are staying in the US for 90 days or less. This means that a holiday or brief work trip does not require a visa application.
The potential for particular travellers to not require a visa has involved careful consideration with regards to security, and this was a primary concern of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which eventually devised the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA).
Operating as an online application and security check, ESTA provides an extra level of security that hadn’t previously existed to VWP travellers. It is designed to be a simple, quick and straightforward process to increase US security in the easiest way possible, particularly in the wake of 9/11.
As a result, British citizens now have to secure an ESTA application before they can enter the US, regardless of time or reason for visit. Applying for an ESTA with the American Visa Bureau is simple; it can be done online via the American Visa Bureau’s online ESTA application and for most people does not take much time to complete, with the application typically taking just seconds or minutes to be granted. After this time the application will either be accepted, rejected or pending. This last category usually means that an application is taking a little longer to process. If an application is rejected, a traveller will need to apply for a US visa at their nearest American embassy.
The ESTA process applies to those wishing to travel to the US for a short period of time and who fall within the VWP remit. For those who are citizens from other countries or desire to stay in the US for a longer time, then applying for a specific type of visa is the step that must be taken.
In addition to a holiday, visa applications can be divided into three broad categories; study, work or immigration.
Studying in the US is understandably a popular decision given the quality of the educational institutions on offer and variety of locations. However, potential students must first be approved before they can begin their American academic careers. Most of these conditions have been introduced by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
Firstly, there must be a guaranteed place at an American school, and it must be a school certified by the SEVP. Any applicant must also prove that they have a permanent residence outside the US, that they can afford the funds for their study and that they intend to leave upon the completion of the course they are enrolled on.
It is possible to study in the US without a study visa, but only in specific circumstances. If during your stay in the US you wish to enrol on a short course, whereby the hours of study are less than 18 hours per week, it is unlikely that a study visa will be required.
For work in the US there are various visas depending on the industry of work and the time spent in the position. These temporary work visas must have a petition from the prospective employer before the visa can be approved. Whether it is for a sportsman competing in a tournament, a pop star doing a tour or translators on a business trip, visas are required.
Any petition must first be approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Once this has been completed, any applicant will then be able to go on to apply for the relevant visa.
The most stringent legislation understandably applies to those wishing to stay in the US permanently. To do this, a sponsor is required to complete a petition, in the same way as is required with a work visa. This could be from a family relative or a prospective employer. In this case they do not necessarily have to be a US citizen, but they must be a legal US resident.
Being granted any of these visas does not give a guarantee that admission will be approved. Visas only allow people to apply for admission, but if the correct procedures are followed and an applicant has passed all the relevant checks, it is likely that their admission will be approved.
The situation is that the vast majority of people travelling from the UK to the US will not need the old style of visa; instead, they will qualify for the ESTA method of entry.
Many people may have been to the US frequently but may not have been there recently. Should you have been ten times, but not in the last five years, then the ESTA application is what needs to be remembered as there is no entry into the country without this approved application. This shouldn’t put anyone off travelling in the first place, because as the system is a blanket one, and applies to so many people, it is specifically designed to be as simple a procedure as possible.
An ESTA application takes a small amount of time to complete and a matter of days, often moments, to be approved. The system applies to everyone that hasn’t had any security checks in the past and is just like passing through a metal detector at the airport. Understanding the process will lead to enjoying the stay once you arrive on the other side of the Atlantic.