The Sensitive Matter of ESTA VISA Waivers & The Impact of COVID-19

With the arrival of  an unprecedented world pandemic, due to COVID-19, wreaking havoc on everything and everyone; individuals holding ESTA visa waiver status have been left in a unique sensitive ‘bind’. Specifically, their U.S. non-immigrant U.S. status has been placed at risk with  lockdowns, and flight cancellations just prior to his or her VWP expiration date.  It’s important to pause and remember the big difference between foreign national citizens who enter the country on the ‘sensitive’ VWP, versus foreign nationals that enter the U.S. on a traditional non-immigrant visa issued by a U.S. Consulate Post abroad.

The Visa Waiver Program allows Citizens of certain countries to apply for admission into the United States through a pre-clearance U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Centers. The VWP waives the need for eligible nationalities to go through the traditional U.S. Consulate application process. An ESTA recipient also waives their rights to the following: Extension or change of status in the United States, or to avail themselves of appeals and relief through the Department of Justice immigraiton court system in the event of immigration status complications.

Without much recourse, individuals in VWP status have hastily departed to border countries such as the U.S. and Canada to renew their ESTA status, and risked not being admitted to either country or readmitted after departing the United States. Our lawyers here at ScottVassell Law Firm, strongly disagree with ESTA VWP holders taking these risks. It’s important to work instead with a  U.S. Immigration lawyer who has a good working relationship with the U.S. ports of entry, and can represent you in front of U.S. Customs Border and Patrol (“CBP”).

Our lawyers have successfully helped countless individuals extend their ESTA without leaving the country by entering our representation with U.S. CBP, and resolving extension issues at land borders or airports while our clients ‘stay put’ in the United States. These extension requests must be made well in advance of the VWP’s expiration date. However, we also file ‘nun pro tunc’ requests for eligible applicants even in the event of overstay.

The above legal option should only be exercised with experienced legal counsel who are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (‘AILA’).