How The Covid-19 Pandemic Affects ESTA Visa Travelers

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Travel across the globe has been hampered by the current COVID-19 pandemic situation. Even ESTA visa USA travelers have not been spared from new travel sanctions and restrictions. How does the current situation affect the present ESTA-granted travelers? 

How Current Holders Are Affected  

Unlike the travelers who filed and entered the United States with regular travel visas, ESTA entrants are not allowed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to apply for an extension in their stay if their circumstances change. ESTA owners now find themselves in a dilemma: leave at the end of their 90-day limit, risk their health and that of others, or overstay because of COVID-19 travel bans and risk getting caught by authorities. So, what are the current ESTA visa holders supposed to do in this situation?

The Relief Of “Satisfactory Departure”

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began a program called “Satisfactory Departure” in mid-March. This is available for travelers who are stranded in the US due to COVID-19, especially visa waiver entrants and travelers.  Satisfactory departure is a provision that allows ESTA holders additional time to leave the country. Under this, they are allowed a further 30 days beyond the usual 90-day limit. If visa waiver travelers are unable to leave on time because of an emergency, they can apply for this program. If the visitor leaves the US during this extended time, then they are not considered to have overstayed.  

How To Apply For “Satisfactory Departure”

The usual method to apply for Satisfactory Departure is to visit a USCIS field office and present evidence of an emergency. However, USCIS field offices are closed because of the pandemic. To remedy this, CBP now accepts applications for Satisfactory Departure at its deferred inspection offices and ports of entry.

Procedures vary by office. Some have forms and formats. Most offices accept email applications, but some still require in-person appointments. For ESTA visa USA entrants who wish to apply for Satisfactory Departure, they should contact the port of entry where they arrived in or the nearest deferred inspection office from their present location. 

If you are wondering whether you really need to apply for this program, yes, you should. It is of importance to get a Satisfactory Departure approval before your authorized length of stay expires. A violation of overstaying can have an adverse effect on your future visa applications, immigration benefits, or the visa waiver program itself. 

The COVID-19 pandemic affects the global travel industry, and present travelers are facing a problem. Fortunately, there is a policy in place to assist them in their needs. Prompt application to the Satisfactory Departure program prevents the revocation of your visa waiver rights in the future.