Update on ESTA

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers who entered the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (or “ESTA”) may find themselves in a difficult set of circumstances: should an ESTA traveler depart the U.S. at the end of the 90-day authorized stay with all the obvious risks of doing so, or should the ESTA traveler risk overstay and the related penalties?

Though no special solution or waiver has been granted, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now processing ESTA traveler applications for “Satisfactory Departure”, which allows the ESTA traveler to remain in the U.S. for an additional 30 days beyond the 90-day limit. Usually reserved for unusual circumstances such as medical emergencies or natural disasters, if granted by CBP, the ESTA traveler would be considered to have departed timely so long as he or she departs the U.S. within the extended 30-day period.

Normally, USCIS field offices process such requests, however, closure of those offices has necessitated CBP’s entrance as the adjudicating agency. To apply, an ESTA traveler should contact the port of entry of arrival or the closest CBP deferred inspection office. As each office has its own rules, please be sure to contact the relevant office as quickly as possible to determine how to apply, what documents are required, and whether any deadlines apply. Additionally, it is crucial that any ESTA traveler seek Satisfactory Departure before the 90-day stay ends.

For more questions, on this or any other immigration issue, please do contact us.

Andrew Howe, Attorney (NC) | photo https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/esta
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Reinhard von Hennigs