How Has Covid-19 Affected the US Visa Waiver Program?

Visa thumbnail image 49494949

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the world in ways that the majority of generations have never experienced in their lifetime. From the devastating numbers of deaths worldwide, to how the economy has suffered and unemployment rates increased, there are very few areas of life that the pandemic has not affected.

The travel industry has been hugely impacted, with most airplanes grounded for months, as many countries imposed travel bans and internal lockdowns to try and halt the spread of the infection. While many people would usually be heading off on a summer holiday, only a small percentage actually managed to do so in 2020.

The effects of the pandemic are far from over, with high volumes of cases still reported around the world and particularly in the US. As well as closing down businesses at the height of the pandemic, government offices were closed down, with services such as visa processing being highly impacted by low staff levels.

Travel Restrictions Have Impacted Volumes of ESTA Applications

The US visa waiver program has not had the same level of impact as the visa application as most of the process is completed automatically. However, due to so many countries being banned from travelling to the US, as well as countries imposing their own travel bans, the requirement for ESTAs has been much lower than usual. There have also been requirements for travellers to self-isolate either upon arrival in the US or when returning to their home country, which has also been a big influence on people booking trips to the US in 2020.

The travel restrictions around the US have been updated many times since the pandemic first appeared in America, with different states applying different rules, mostly determined by the infection rates of areas.  As of November 8 2020, US has been the worst hit country in terms of numbers of infections, with 10 million cases recorded so far.

The Impact of the Presidential Election on COVID-19 in the US

There may now be significant changes to the approach to combatting Covid-19 in the US, with Joe Biden set to introduce a new taskforce to try and drive infection rates down. In Biden’s presidential victory speech, he specifically talked about his intentions to work with scientists to develop stronger action plans, which could include changes to travel in and into the US.

Globally, October has been the worst month for Covid-19 infection rates, but many medical experts had predicted a strong second wave in October before levelling out again and then hopefully a vaccine will be available within the next few months.

If this happens, it is likely that the travel and tourism industry will bounce back, and potentially this could mean a big increase in the number of ESTA applications, so the usual 72 hours it takes to process the application could actually be longer. As an ESTA is valid for two years, anyone planning a trip to the US in the next year could benefit from applying for their ESTA early, to make sure they do not face delays.

Interesting Related Article: “What is a visa? How can I get a visa?