US & Canada

Five things you need to know about US visa changes

Work continues on the site of the new United States embassy in Battersea on November 23, 2015 in London, England. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The in-progress US embassy in London

Changes to the US's visa waiver programme will affect many EU citizens with ties to the Middle East. Could it affect you?

1. What will change once the law goes into effect?

Previously, the US waived visas for up to 90 days for citizens and nationals of 38 countries on their visa waiver list, many in the European Union.

Anyone eligible for the visa waiver program (VWP) still has to fill out an electronic form that's administered by the US Department of Homeland Security before travelling to the US called the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). The ESTA clearance lasts two years.

Under the new law, those who previously would have qualified for ESTA but have a second citizenship from Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan or have visited those countries in the last five years will face changes.

Those people will need to apply for a visa. It's unclear if those who apply for a visa must still get an ESTA or how long the ESTA clearance will last.

2. How will the visa program work?

The law is set to be implemented in 2016, although a time frame has not been determined by the US Department of Homeland Security and it's standard practice for a new law to be subject to review.

Once the law is implemented, those who are affected could be required to go to a US embassy and apply for a visa in person, which could include an interview.

At the moment in London, for example, a visitor visa appointment can be scheduled in four days. The length of time it takes to be issued a visa is a case by case basis but can take anywhere from next day to a week.

3. Will I have to apply every time I go to the US?

The good news may be that most people won't have to go into the embassy too often. A visa for tourism and business purposes for dual UK nationals, for example, may be valid for a maximum of 10 years and costs $160.

However, the length of visa would be determined then by a consular officer after an interview and background check.

Image copyright AP

4. Who will be hit hardest?

Specialists like journalists and performers already require a separate visa to travel to the US, and anyone seeking to work in the US - that is, be paid by a US company - requires a work visa. But those who are coming to the US for tourism or for business meetings, deals, or conferences - were previously covered by the VWP.

Because of this, the programme is expected to affect business people the most, especially those who come in and out frequently. and even more so those businesspeople who have recently been to Iran since the nuclear deal reached over the summer opened more opportunities for them.

The concern has angered the Iranian government who say this new law would violate the deal. But Secretary of State John Kerry has promised in a letter to Iran's foreign minister that extensive visas will be available.

5. What if I'm a dual US citizen?

If you have a US passport and you have travelled to designated countries or are a dual national of these countries, you do not require a visa.