Extensions for Stranded Visa Waiver Program / ESTA Travelers

Visa waiver program (VWP) travelers stranded in the US due to the current crisis can apply for an extended term of admission.

Current regulations permit U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to use discretion in granting periods of ‘satisfactory departure’ to VWP travellers of up to 30 days in the event of an emergency.

If the request for satisfactory departure is granted, the traveler will not accrue unlawful presence during the period of overstay, provided they leave during the satisfactory departure period.

CBP has confirmed this additional flexibility is now available for individuals who had traveled to the US under the visa waiver program but who have been unable to leave the country due to the pandemic.

The rule applies only where VWP/ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) travelers have been granted satisfactory departure. It allows a further 30-day extension on their lawful admission period where they remain unable, as a direct result of the pandemic, to depart the US within the authorized timeframe.

Visa waiver travelers are ordinarily not permitted to extend their period of stay or apply to change their status while in the US. This temporary measures takes account of the challenges currently facing VWP travelers who may be stranded in the US due to continued travel restrictions, lockdown, illness and flight cancellations.

How to request satisfactory departure

Travelers are advised to make a request for satisfactory departure before their current period of admission expires.

VWP travelers can request satisfactory departure by contacting any local CBP Port of Entry or Deferred Inspection Site or the USCIS Contact Center.

Travelers should be ready to provide:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • clear copy of valid passport ID page and passport number
  • current I-94
  • details of original departure travel plans and any updated plans that may have been made
  • supporting documentation demonstrating a compelling reason why they cannot depart the country on time, this could include evidence of a COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms, cancellation of the return flight or an official report or communication showing the traveler’s inability to return home.

Requests will be adjudicated at the discretion of the reviewing CBP Officer.

Travelers are advised to contact their local US airport or port of entry to confirm if satisfactory departure requests are being accepted, and if any restrictions apply, eg only those with authorization expiring in the next 14 days are being accepted.

US immigration advice

Individuals who remain in the US beyond their period of lawful stay under the VWP and who are without a grant of satisfactory departure will no longer qualify under the VWP and risk enforcement action and penalties under US law.
NNU Immigration is actively monitoring the impact of the pandemic on US immigration policy and application processing.

As the situation continues to develop, please contact our US immigration specialists for the latest advice for your specific circumstances.

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

Last updated: 26 May 2020