How the U.S. Visa Waiver Program Works

      November 13, 2008 10:21

      Having been newly admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, Koreans can travel to the U.S. without a visa from Monday. In the future, they, in principle, don't have to queue for hours for a visa interview at the American Embassy, and can save the W100,000-plus fee (US$1=1,367). But not all are eligible to benefit. Even those eligible must still undertake certain procedures required by the U.S.

      ◆ How It Works

      1. Confirmation of eligibility for visa exemption essential Koreans may enter the U.S. for tourist and commercial purposes for up to 90 days. Resident employees, students, trainees and job-holders who stay in the U.S. in excess of 90 days should obtain separate visas. Those who have been previously refused entry to the U.S. are excluded.

      Visa exemption is available to Koreans whether they enter by land, sea or air. When they visit the U.S. under the VWP, however, they cannot change the purpose of their travel, whereas those holding a tourist visa can modify the purpose of their stay while in America.

      2. Get an electronic passport. Travelers wishing to take advantage of visa exemption must get an electric passport. An e-passport, with personal data embedded in a microchip, looks, upon first glance, identical to a regular passport. To get one, you must visit a passport-issuing office in person. Access the Foreign Affairs Ministry's secure website ( for details of the 169 city, country and ward offices nationwide. If you already have a U.S. visa, you may still tour America with your existing photo-electronic passport.

      3. Get Travel Permit through Internet. Prior to departure, you must access the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and undertake the necessary procedures. Those who enter 16 required personal details, like name, date of birth, nationality and passport number plus additional information, like flight number, city of departure, telephone number, e-mail address and intended address in the U.S., can immediately confirm whether travel is permitted. In these cases, a travel permit will be issued within a couple of minutes. Sometimes, however, you may need to wait up to 72 hours for the decision. Accordingly, it is advisable to apply for an electronic travel permit at least three days prior to departure.

      Electronic travel permits are valid for two years. Repeat trips require travelers to input their application number then revise five information fields. In the event of rescheduled or canceled trips, all travelers should access the relevant site, input their application number and change the necessary information.

      ◆ Korean Language Service to Run from Mid-December

      You can now apply for a travel permit at the ESTA site, but the Korean language service is not yet available. It will likely be ready in mid-December. Those not familiar with English or the internet will need help applying.

      It's U.S. government policy to relieve visa-exempt Koreans of the task of filling out nonimmigrant arrival/departure cards. Because working procedures have yet to be completed in the U.S., however, this will not come into effect until early next year.

      ◆ Will Visa Exemption Continue?

      The U.S. Department of Homeland Security examines countries admitted to the VWP every two years through the Department of State and intelligence agencies. Under certain conditions, such as a hiked illegal immigrant rate, the no-visa benefits can be canceled in two or four years. Argentina and Uruguay recently had their VWP benefits canceled after a sharp rise in the number of illegal immigrants in the wake of the financial crisis.

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