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I have a situation here and I do not know what would be the best approach.

I have dual nationality, French and British. I have travelled to Syria (but not by plane), I took a car overland from Lebanon and spent 3 days in Damascus.

The Syrian stamp is on a French passport that is now expired. I currently hold a British passport and a brand new French passport (without any stamps).

What gov.uk and gouv.fr website mention:

"The ESTA allows approved applicants to travel to the USA for up to 90 days" if you "haven’t travelled to Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea (DPRK), Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011"

And I would need to apply for B1/B2 visa to travel to the USA

My questions are:

  • if I apply for ESTA Visa Waiver how would they know I have been to Syria ?

  • What are the risks doing so ?

  • Would it be better to apply for ESTA with my British or French passport ?

I just don't want to hassle for B1/2 Visa if possible.

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    You mean you’d intend to lie on the ESTA application where it asks about previous travel to Syria? And maybe not declare your expired French passport? cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program/… – Traveller Feb 24 at 14:36
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    @Traveller yes basically – jnpl Feb 24 at 14:44
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    Countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program are required to share intelligence and cooperate in matters of security with the United States. You can’t be sure exactly what immigration data is shared between governments. What you can be sure of is the repercussions if discovered (whether at the application stage, or on arrival in the US) would be much more ‘hassle’ than applying for a visa. The policy on TSE is always to tell the truth. – Traveller Feb 24 at 15:03
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Hello and welcome to Travel Stackexchange. I'll try to answer your questions, however I currently can't provide sources, just from memory:

DON'T ATTEMPT IT!

if I apply for ESTA Visa Waiver how would they know I have been to Syria?

Because it's a French passport, the risk is quite high that they have the info from the French authorities. I would not recommend trying to get an ESTA, the B2 visa would probably be less of a hassle.

As Traveller mentions in the comments, the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) participating countries "are required to share intelligence and cooperate in matters of security with the United States [and] you can’t be sure exactly what immigration data is shared".

What are the risks doing so ?

The almost 100% risk is being banned from the VWP formally - which you technically already are, as you aren't eligible with your travel history - and maybe also being banned from any other visitor's visa to the U.S. for misrepresentation, fines, imprisonment, deportation, getting on terrorism watchlists, etc. when discovered.

Would it be better to apply for ESTA with my British or French passport ?

The best way would be to apply for a B visa as officially required.

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    The most significant negative consequence is that misrepresentation results in lifetime inadmissibility. This applies to all sorts of visas, immigrant and nonimmigrant alike, with the exception only of A and G visas (for diplomats and officers/employees of international organizations). – phoog Feb 25 at 14:10
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    Because it's a French passport, the risk is quite high that they have the info from the French authorities. I do not believe that the French government would give the travel history of French citizens to the US government. There is no evidence that this occurs. France has never had as close an intelligence relationship with the US as other countries like the UK or Germany. There are other methods the US could get the travel history however (airline booking data given voluntarily or otherwise). I agree with the bottom line, that OP should apply for a visa. – MJeffryes Feb 25 at 14:23
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As the answer by JakeDot said, don't even try.

Since you traveled by car and through a land border, they may be a realistic chance that the French authorities never learned about the visit in the first place.

However, you cannot be sure that the visit wasn't recorded in some database, as visits to Syria are under scrutiny.

You may want to consult a professional for this one, especially if you have any ties to Syria, have an Arabic name or anything like that.

Basically, from the US point of view it will sound suspicious that you just took a car and went to a country that is in a civil war and for which there are clear travel advisories.

  • If you apply truthfully, you are legally fine, but you may wake sleeping dogs and have to overcome the initial suspicion - at least.
  • If you lie, and they find out, all alarms can go off. You can be banned for life, and you may end up on any kind of watchlist. And the US share those with their allies, causing you trouble elsewhere.

In such a case I wouldn't bet everything on an opinion of someone on the internet, but at least consider consulting a specialist.

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    The most significant negative consequence is that misrepresentation results in lifetime inadmissibility. – phoog Feb 25 at 14:10
  • Thanks, I updated the answer. As for what is worse, I guess it depends on the point of view. Many people may not care that much about not going to the US; and getting on a terrorist watchlist may have real-life negative consequences in many countries that are allied with the US that outweigh not getting a visa. – averell Feb 25 at 18:49
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    @averell Why would you get on a terrorist watchlist? Being banned for life for deception, yes, but a terrorist watchlist? – Crazydre Feb 25 at 20:08
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    As far as the US is concerned, the OP went into Syria over a land border - a thing that few people would currently do "for fun", given that there is a civil war, with extremist groups involved, and most governments strongly advise against travel. And then the person attempted to enter the US actively hiding that fact. While the actual situation may have been much more mundane, this is what it will look like to the US. And, if the OP is male and looks arabic, it doesn't take a giant leap of mind to imagine the US official may contact the DHS, and those may do whatever they decide to do. – averell Feb 26 at 7:23
  • @averell It was for "tourism" I visited the old city of Damascus and Krak des Chevaliers and I have all proofs of that (Travel Authorization/Pictures) I'm not arabic or have arabic name. – jnpl Feb 26 at 10:10
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if I apply for ESTA Visa Waiver how would they know I have been to Syria

As you entered and exited overland, they're very unlikely to know. Don't bring any pictures or other evidence of having been to Syria, though.

What are the risks doing so?

It would involve lying on an official form. If discovered, you can say goodbye to ever setting your foot in the US.

Would it be better to apply for ESTA with my British or French passport?

On one hand the UK shares a fair deal with the US as part of the Five Eyes agreement; on the other hand your trip was on your French passport. As such I'd go with the British passport, declaring your French citizenship and your current (empty) French passport.

I won't say "DON'T ATTEMPT IT!", but rather: up to you to judge, as I realistically can't see you not getting away with it, but know you'd be in violation of the law.

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  • Are you really going to claim the chance of being caught is zero here? Well yes, they have different passports, but what does that matter if the US have gathered via some channel intelligence about that visit? You can't claim they don't have an interest in the region. – JakeDot Feb 26 at 7:57
  • @JakeDot I said unlikely, not zero. And how exactly, seeing as 1. OP's identity wasn't checked by Western forces as far as we know and 2. the passport used is no longer in use and wouldn't need to be declared on the ESTA form – Crazydre Feb 26 at 13:05

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