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I am currently holding a 10-year B1/B2 visa for travel in the US, which expires in 3 years. Back in 2015 I was refused a B1/B2 visa because the visa waiver program had just started and I didn't realize that I should have just applied for an ESTA instead. Several months after that I applied for an ESTA, which was also refused. Finally, a year after I reapplied for the visa I am currently holding.

Should I apply for a visa again before or after the current one expires, or am I still eligible for an ESTA? And even if I am eligible for an ESTA, what are the chances of getting an ESTA after a visa refusal? Do I have a higher chance because the refusal was many years ago and after that I got a visa? Or are they still slim? And finally, if I apply for an ESTA and get a refusal, would that influence the outcome of the visa application I will have to do afterwards? So maybe I should just go for a visa in the first place.

The purpose of visiting the US is just for tourism for no more than 2 weeks each time. The same story goes for my 2 children 13 and 10 years old (visa and ESTA refusal back then and current B1/B2 visa holders). Thank you in advance.

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    visa waiver program is much older (in 1996 I used it). And it is strange that not applying for ESTA gave you such ban, and airlines should have checked that you had a visa or a ESTA. But you can apply for a visa instead of an ESTA. Really... there is something wrong on the question. Why did you get the ban? To have an honest answer you should answer honestly (or just do not ask, you get not relevant answers for your case) Feb 16 at 10:50
  • Getting a visa after a refusal is a huge plus. You’re not eligible to apply for ESTA while your visa is valid, once it expires if you meet the ESTA criteria (You are a citizen or eligible national of a Visa Waiver Program country. You are currently not in possession of a visitor's visa. Your travel is for 90 days or less. You plan to travel to the United States for business or pleasure. You want to apply for a new authorization for one person or a group of applications for two or more persons) you can apply for ESTA, hard to see why it would be refused.
    – Traveller
    Feb 16 at 11:48
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    They probably became a new member of the VWP @GiacomoCatenazzi Feb 16 at 11:49
  • @NicolasFormichella Still doesn't explain why they were refused a visa. Feb 16 at 12:45
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    Please don't write "visa" in all caps. It isn't an acronym like ESTA or VWP; it's just a normal word. INA 214(a) is the section that defines "classes of inadmissible aliens" -- to know the specific reason, we'd need the full citation with subsection and paragraph, etc. For example, if you were found to be inadmissible because you had committed a crime, the citation might be INA 214(a)(2)(A).
    – phoog
    Mar 6 at 8:36

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Should I apply for a visa again before or after the current one expires, or am I still eligible for an ESTA?

AFAIK you would need to declare your previous visa refusal in any ESTA application, but I see no reason why you would be ineligible to apply. From a purely cost perspective, an ESTA makes more sense than renewing your B1/B2 visa. The current ESTA fee is $21 compared with $185 for the visa, so an ESTA is much cheaper upfront and $80 less over a 10 year period (assuming no change to the fees during that time).

Some disadvantages of using the Visa Waiver Programme are mentioned here:

  • you may not change or extend your non-immigrant status.
  • If your admission is denied, you have no right to appeal a determination as to admissibility.
  • If you are found to have violated the terms of your admission, you also have no right to review or appeal, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for admission under the Visa Waiver Program

Of course, neither an ESTA or a visa guarantee admission to the US, however if any of the above VWP conditions matter to you, then applying for a visa may be the better choice.

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    An additional condition of the VWP that is significant for many travelers is the period of admission, which is 90 days for the VWP (not extendible as already noted) versus six months normally granted under a B visa.
    – phoog
    Mar 6 at 8:32

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