To date, there is no indication that the Visa Waiver Program will be suspended by the Trump Administration. Following the LA Times’ release of a draft Presidential Executive Order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks from Foreign Nationals” on Wednesday, January 25th, several media outlets in Australia reported the widely-used Visa Waiver Program may be suspended, requiring Australians to undertake an in-person interview at the U.S. Consulate before visiting the U.S. These stories quickly spread across social media platforms, creating speculation and worry.
The program discussed in the draft Executive Order (Sec. 9) is the Visa Interview Waiver Program, which affects far fewer Australians than the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Interview Waiver Program is also referred to as “[visa] Renewal by Mail”, and does not apply to all applicants or visitors to the U.S. The Visa Interview Waiver Program is largely utilized by those who are renewing their nonimmigrant visa. The program allows qualified applications to avoid the need to appear in-person for an interview when renewing their visa.
The Visa Waiver Program began in 1986 and is widely used by citizens of 38 countries, including Australia (since 1996). The program allows for streamlined travel to the United States for business and/or tourism, without a separate visa for up to 90 days. These 38 countries also have reciprocal agreements to allow for American citizens to visit their countries for a similar length of time for business or tourism, visa-free. Foreign citizens must first meet specific requirements and successfully complete the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application, prior to traveling to the United States.
As it stands, the Visa Waiver Program has not been directly impacted by any recently executed Executive Orders. Qualified travelers can still travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, subject to U.S. immigration regulations, including inspection by U.S. Customs & Border Protection.