18

As a British citizen, I recently applied for an ESTA visa waiver in order for me to travel to and present at an academic conference in the United States. To my surprise, they have added additional criteria based on travel to certain countries in the Middle East since 2011 (this change was apparently made in December 2015). I stated on my application that I had worked as a lecturer at a specific institution in the Kurdish region of Iraq for a three month period. I expected my application to be denied fairly quickly (although I hoped that it wouldn't) but having checked it several times, there has been no change to the "Authorization Pending" status when I check my application on the website. The top of the page (when I check my status) says:

Your travel authorization is under review because an immediate determination could not be made. This response does not indicate negative findings. A determination will be available within 72 hours.

It has now been 18 days since I applied - I understand that they may want to check my details more thoroughly and am more than happy for them to - but through various searches on google, I have been unable to find anyone else who had waited so long for a response!

Is it possible for the applications to get stuck in the system? Or is it far more that they're spending this time trying to determine whether I am a security threat? I've heard of people putting in a second application when the first takes a long time - would this be advisable?

Thanks for your time!

EDIT - Adding this from an answer posted by the OP

My status has officially changed today (20 days after application) and I have been declined the Visa Waiver.

Since the conference is in a month's time, I can still apply for a B-1 Visa but probably won't. Looking at the visa application website, it may be the case that I'll be asked to report my travel history over the past five years and although it's relatively uninteresting, I really do not have the time to put together all the documentation they might ask for, nor can I really be bothered to go through the rigmarole of an interview in London.

  • 5
    I think you're waiting for the Secretary of Homeland Security to get around to looking at it. See section 12 here help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/194 – CMaster May 3 '16 at 14:09
  • 2
    If the time for the conference is drawing near and you have a good relationship with a conference convenor or other affiliated academic in the US (the higher up, the better), you might ask whether that person would be willing to contact their local congressperson. – mkennedy May 3 '16 at 16:58
  • 3
    There was once an acquiantance of mine who had applied for H1b, got it approved and handed over his passport. He was supposed to get it back in 15-20 days apparently but got it 10 months later with the H1b stamp. Reason; he once transited in Iran. He regularly followed up with the US consulate after 3 months and eventually got it 6 months after then. He is an Indian passport holder BTW. Please contact the concerned people else they may hold the issue for way too long. – trollster May 3 '16 at 18:02
  • 1
    @mkennedy or just go ahead and apply for a visa. – CMaster May 3 '16 at 20:23
  • 1
    @CMaster I was going to add just that comment, but I suspect that the visa application will run up against exactly the same roadblock that the ESTA application has encountered, whatever that is, so it may not help very much. – phoog May 3 '16 at 23:15
12

Given the circumstances of your application and the recent change of US law, I think it is most likely that your ESTA application has landed on someone's desk for review by a human being.

The new law makes people who have visited Iraq since 2011 ineligible for an ESTA, with some exceptions. I think it is most likely that someone is meant to determine whether you qualify for one of the exceptions.

Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:

  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty; and
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
  • Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

Is being a lecturer a legitimate business-related purpose? It might be, or it might not be. This seems to me to be the most likely thing holding up your application.

The obvious thing to do is to wait. But if your travel date is fast approaching, there might be some things you can try:

  • Some people have reported that when they tried to apply for a new ESTA with one already pending, they received an error message stating that they already had an approved ESTA, and upon checking, their pending ESTA application had changed to approved.
  • Travel to the US by land does not require an ESTA. So you might fly to Canada and enter the US by land. If your application remains pending when you must travel, this may be an option. You may also end up having to explain the whole story to Canadian immigration, which could be a problem. Or if you're going to the southwest US, TIJ airport (Tijuana, Mexico) is a possibility, since you can literally walk into the US from within the airport. I wouldn't try this if your ESTA is denied before you travel, though.
  • Contact a US immigration lawyer. This will probably be expensive and time consuming, but if you really need this resolved, then this should be at the top of your to-do list.
  • Have a member of the US Congress intervene. An American must make this request on your behalf.
  • Obtain a normal B1/B2 visa. It could be difficult to obtain one in time for your trip, but once you have it, you don't have to worry about this again for ten years. Hopefully enough time for the US to reintroduce some sanity to this program.
  • 2
    The second option sounds quite dangerous -- even though land travelers under the VWP don't need to have ESTAs, they still need to satisfy all other VWP eligibility requirements, which the OP doesn't unless he gets a waiver as described in your quote. – Henning Makholm May 4 '16 at 20:51

protected by Community May 6 '16 at 16:31

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.