I'm a British citizen currently on an exchange semester in Montreal. I entered Canada through an eta which was approved immediately without any issues. I wanted to visit the US during my stay here so I applied for an ESTA. My application was held for two days and then denied. When I called the ESTA hotline, I was told that I "don't meet the requirements of the program". I have never violated any of the terms of ESTA, never been to the US, no criminal record etc.. I'm staying in Canada for one more month so I don't have enough time to apply for a visa. I applied for redress through the TRIP program but I doubt that my case will go through in time. Can I enter the United States by train? From what I understood, VWP citizens only need to fill in the I-94 form at the border. I understand that the CBP officer can see my denied ESTA, but if I show that I meet all the requirements of the VWP, can they let me in? Did I shoot myself in the foot by applying for ESTA? Because if I hadn't applied and went to the border they would have nothing on me. Please advise.
Can I enter the United States by train?
Why would you attempt to? You have been told unequivocally that you do not meet the requirements of the program. Once you have been denied an ESTA any attempt to enter without a visa will almost certainly meet with you being turned away.
I understand that the CBP officer can see my denied ESTA, but if I show that I meet all the requirements of the VWP, can they let me in?
Of course they can do anything, they even mistakenly let in all kinds of criminals so anything is within the realms of possibility. However the most likely scenario is you get denied entry.
Did I shoot myself in the foot by applying for ESTA?
Nobody can tell. If you were planning to come by air, you needed an ESTA or visa, no two ways around that. If you were coming by land then indeed there was no need for you to have applied. Personally I have always preferred an opportunity to talk face to face with a human being than just a paperwork/online application. Your personal impact and articulation skills are helpful in that situation.
If you were previously denied a visa, or previously refused entry to the United States, or previously removed from the U.S., your ESTA application will most likely be denied.
If you are a citizen of a VWP country, and you are traveling by land to the United States, you do not have to apply for ESTA. If you are coming to the U.S. by air or sea, you DO have to apply for ESTA.