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ESTA Application Denied: Can You Travel to the US?

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

To travel to the United States, non-US nationals must have relevant permission. This could be in the form of a valid visa or authorization for visa-free travel under ESTA.

ESTA applications are denied when the applicant fails to satisfy the ESTA eligibility requirements. If your application for US travel authorization under ESTA has been decided as “Travel not Authorized”, depending on the reason for the refusal, you may still be able to travel to the US.

This is because a refused ESTA does not in itself mean you are not eligible to travel to the US – it simply means you are ineligible to travel visa-free under the visa waiver program (VWP).

For example, you would be ineligible if your intended length of stay is over the 90 day VWP limit, or if your reason for visit is not permitted under the VWP, or if you do not have a valid electronic passport from a Visa Waiver country.

In this article, we explain possible next steps and travel options if your ESTA has been refused to determine if you can still travel to the US.


Why are ESTA applications denied?


ESTA applications are usually processed straight away, and in most cases a decision is given within 72 hours. If your application hae been returned as ‘travel not authorized’, you will need to understand the grounds for the refusal to determine options.

There can be many reasons why your ESTA application has been rejected, including:


  • You have answered any of the eligibility questions with ‘yes’
  • You have a second nationality from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia or Cuba
  • You have overstayed your last trip in the US
  • You have travelled to Cuba on or after January 12, 2021
  • You have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia on or after March 11, 2011
  • Information concerning you in the application form does not correspond to that in your passport.
  • You are not a VWP national
  • Your intended period of stay is longer than 90 days
  • You have once lost a passport or reported it as stolen
  • You have provided false information in your ESTA registration
  • You hold a US Green Card
  • You have a police record, in accordance with the seriousness of your offense(s) your trip to the United States can be refused.
  • You have recently been refused a visa under a different nationality passport
  • You have already applied for a US Immigration Visa at a US Embassy
  • There are also other reasons for an ESTA visa refusal, but these are not disclosed by the US authorities


ESTA travel not authorized: what can you do?


US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are not required to provide you with the grounds for refusing your ESTA application. Without official grounds for refusal being provided, you will need to examine your application to try and understand the probable cause for denial. Seeking professional advice can help to identify the likely ground(s) for refusal, which will then help inform your next steps and how to address the issue and inform your next steps.

Possible options include:


1. Correcting a mistake

If you had erroneously answered ‘yes’ to one of the eligibility questions, contact CBP to request a correction.


2. Apply again for ESTA


On examination, it may be that you made a simple mistake when you completed the ESTA form. Look particularly at the information you entered for your:


  • Last name, first name(s)
  • Date of birth
  • Place and country of birth
  • Passport number
  • Country of citizenship


If you had made a simple error in your application form, such as a typographic error, you can wait 10 days and make a new ESTA application. As it will be a brand new application, you will also have to pay the application fee again.


3. Applying for a visa & waiver of inadmissibility


If you are ineligible for ESTA – for example, you are not a national of a qualifying country or your reason for travel does not come under the VWP rules, your next step would be to make an application for the relevant visa at the US Embassy or Consular post in your country of residence. In most cases, this would be a B visa for visitors, or a relevant work visa

If you are concerned that you will be refused entry to the US under one of the general grounds of inadmissibility, you may need to look at submitting a waiver of inadmissibility to accompany your visa application.

The most common grounds for inadmissibility are:


  • Prior history of criminal activity;
  • Prior periods of unlawful presence in the US potentially subjecting applicants to a 3 year bar (if overstay was a minimum of six months) or a 10 year bar (if overstay was one year or more) from entering the US.


The application process for the waiver of ineligibility can take up to 12 months and requires extensive supporting documentation to support your application. If you are considering this course of action, take legal advice.


Applying for a B visitor visa


To apply for the US B visa for visitors, you will first need to complete form DS-160 on the website of the US Embassy or Consular post where you will be filing your application. For the form to be processed, you will also need to pay the visa application fee ($160 at the time of writing). You should keep a copy of the payment receipt as you will need to refer to this during the application process.

The next stage is to arrange a visa interview at the relevant Embassy or Post.

You will need to prepare for the interview. Consider the questions you will be asked, which will depend on your reason for travel. If you are planning a business trip, you should consider these B-1 questions. If you are planning a leisure vacation, consider these B-2 questions.

You should also prepare your bundle of evidence and documents to support your application, which you should take with you to the interview. Typically these would include your passport, visa-compliant photographs, DS-160 Receipt Confirmation Form, details of your itinerary and accommodation during your stay. Depending on your circumstances and reason for travel, you may need additional documents for the adjudicator to refer to, such as information about any criminal convictions, financial information, proof of employment and residence in your home country.

You will be given a decision on your application at the end of the interview, unless the adjudicator is requesting further evidence.


Avoiding Issues at the US Border


It’s important to note that even if you already have an approved ESTA, you may still be denied entry to the US since customs and border guards have discretionary powers to permit or deny admission to the United States.

All travelers to the US should expect to be subject to additional scrutiny at the port of entry, regardless of whether you have made a successful ESTA application or if, following a refused ESTA application, you have secured a US visa. This could include further questioning and background checks. You may also be detained while these checks are being carried out.

Travelers are advised to carry documentation with them to support their reason for travel and details of their ESTA, visa, and/or or waiver, to present to border officials in the event of any questioning.


ESTA Denied FAQs


What should I do if my ESTA application is denied?


If your ESTA application is denied, you should first review the denial notice to understand the reason for the denial. The most common reasons for denial include incorrect or incomplete information provided during the application process or not meeting the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). If the information was incorrect or incomplete, you can reapply with the correct details. If you do not meet the VWP requirements, you will need to apply for a regular US visa at a US Embassy or Consulate.


If my ESTA is denied, can I apply again?


You can reapply for ESTA if your initial application is denied, but before reapplying, it is important to review the reasons for the denial and ensure that all the information you provide is accurate and complete. If your denial was due to incorrect or incomplete information, correcting these errors in your new application can improve your chances of approval. However, if the denial was due to ineligibility under the Visa Waiver Program requirements, reapplying may not change the outcome, and you should consider applying for a regular US visa at a US Embassy or Consulate.


Can I appeal the decision if my ESTA is denied?


There is no formal appeal process for a denied ESTA application. However, you can reapply for ESTA if you believe the denial was due to an error or incorrect information. If you still cannot obtain ESTA approval, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa through a US Embassy or Consulate.


How can I find out why my ESTA application was denied?


To find out why your ESTA application was denied, you should refer to the email notification you received, which should provide a general reason for the denial. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide detailed explanations for ESTA denials. If you need further assistance, you may contact the DHS’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) to seek clarification and resolve any issues.


Is there a waiting period before I can reapply for ESTA after a denial?


There is no mandatory waiting period before you can reapply for ESTA after a denial. However, it is advisable to thoroughly review and correct any errors in your previous application before submitting a new one. Ensure that all the information provided is accurate and complete to increase your chances of approval.


Can I travel to the US with a visa if my ESTA is denied?


If your ESTA application is denied, you can still travel to the US by applying for a non-immigrant visa at a US Embassy or Consulate. The most common type of visa for short-term travel is the B-1/B-2 visitor visa, which allows for tourism, business, or medical visits. You will need to schedule an appointment for a visa interview and provide the necessary documentation.


What are common reasons for ESTA denial?


Common reasons for ESTA denial include providing incorrect or incomplete information, having a criminal record, previously overstaying a visa or ESTA in the US, or being deemed ineligible under the Visa Waiver Program requirements. It is crucial to ensure that all information is accurate and that you meet all the eligibility criteria when applying.


Does an ESTA denial affect my ability to get a US visa in the future?


An ESTA denial does not necessarily affect your ability to obtain a US visa in the future. However, you will need to disclose the ESTA denial on your visa application, and it may be considered during the visa interview process. It is important to provide honest and accurate information and to address any concerns raised by the denial when applying for a visa.


What steps can I take if I believe my ESTA denial was a mistake?


If you believe your ESTA denial was a mistake, you can take several steps to address the issue. First, review your application for any errors or incomplete information and consider reapplying with the correct details. If you are still denied, you can contact the DHS’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) to seek clarification and assistance in resolving the issue. Our US Immigration attorneys can advise on your options if you require expert guidance.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.



Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law, (The Legal 500, Who's Who Legal and AILA) and an experienced and trusted advisor to large multinational corporates through to SMEs. She provides strategic immigration advice and specialist application support to corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, artists, actors and athletes from across the globe to meet their US-bound talent mobility needs.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals.

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