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Visa Waiver Program and COVID-19


Visa Waiver Program (VWP) program allows citizens from participating countries to travel to the U.S. as non-immigrants for business, tourism, transit and medical purposes. Travelers arriving into the U.S. under the VWP are permitted to stay up to 90 days per visit and not required to obtain other travel authorizations, such as a U.S. visa. There are currently 39 countries that participate in the VWP. 

Individuals traveling under the VWP agree to waive their rights to review or appeal. 

In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has tried to facilitate the ability of VWP travelers to lawfully remain in the US beyond the allowed 90-day period of stay. 

Under ordinary circumstances, VWP travelers are not eligible to change (C/S) or extend their status (E/S) – they must depart the United States in a timely fashion. Failure to depart results in ineligibility for future VWP travel and other serious potential immigration consequences. The single exception to these restrictions is a rarely granted, 30-day, emergency forgiveness known as Satisfactory Departure. At this time, CBP has tried to facilitate the Satisfactory Departure process and is allowing requests for two 30-day extension periods. On April 17, CBP announced that VWP travelers granted Satisfactory Departure may apply for an additional 30-day extension of their admission period if they remain unable to depart the United States because of COVID-19. 

CBP is handling Satisfactory Departure requests due to the closure of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices which would otherwise adjudicate these cases. Thus, these requests may be made to CBP at Ports of Entry and Deferred Inspection Offices. These offices are typically located at or near international airports throughout the United States. Each CBP location has slight variations and nuances in the manner of processing these requests, such as how far in advance one can apply and the exact mechanism for making the request. Travelers should be prepared to document their inability to depart the United States with documentation including flight cancellations, home country conditions, travel restrictions, illness, and/or COVID-19 exposure. 

For assistance with the visa waiver, call the Law Offices of Norka M. Schell, LLC at (212) 258-0713.

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