USA ESTA application – The United States is often eyed as an ideal destination for higher studies by millions of students hailing from different countries. The numerous famous universities and colleges in the USA lure talented students from those countries. Generally, to study in the USA and stay there, students require suitable VISA but this is not a hard and fast rule! Students eyeing short term courses in the US institutes and colleges can very well opt for the ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It has been made effective since January 2009.
Nuances of the USA ESTA application, students seeking education in the United States should know
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization briefly referred to as ESTA is a unique, automated system. ESTA was deployed to assess the eligibility of visitors headed to the USA under the VWP (Visa Waiver Program). The VWP is a special US Government Programme, rolled out by the Department of Homeland Security. It is used to authorize entry of nationals hailing from 37 countries with lower illegal immigration rates to the territory of the USA. This enables the eligible applicants to enter the USA without a VISA for a specific period. Like travelers or people visiting the US for a short duration for various work, students seeking short term courses in the USA can also opt for ESTA.
Fill out your USA ESTA application
As of now, the Visa Waiver Programme lets the applicants including students apply for ESTA only through online applications. As per the norms, the applicants can stay in the USA after getting approval for ESTA for a maximum duration of 90 days. The applicants must ideally apply minimum 72 hours before travel to the USA but it is prudent that you apply while keeping some time in hand. The approval time may vary from one candidate to another but in most cases, students applying for ESTA do not have to wait long.
The advantage is that the applicants do not have to fill any form manually or take printouts. The entire application and approval process takes place online. There is no need to go to the US embassy for screening etc.
More about the validity and limitations of ESTA
Students seeking admission to short term educational courses in the USA and opting for ESTA must learn about its validity and limitations well. While approval for ESTA does allow a student to stay in the USA for a period of 90days for studying or related work, it is by no means a substitute for US VISA. If a person already has a Valid US visa, he/she does not need to apply for ESTA. ESTA does not let you immigrate to the USA at all.
ESTA remains valid for a 2-year duration. The applicants/students must remember a passport is still very much required. ESTA validity will cease if the passport expires before the validity of ESTA. It is possible to pay multiple visits to the USA within 2 years. However, each stay may only last for 90 days or less.
If an applicant gets approved for ESTA but his/her passport expires within 2 years then he/she will get ESTA valid until the expiry date of that passport. You need to re-apply for ESTA authorization when you:
- get a new passport
- opt for a change in name
- change your gender
- change your citizenship
- circumstances are changed (examples – criminal record or you have contracted a contagious disease)
Incidentally, if the applicant’s ESTA expires when he/she is in the USA that is not going to affect departure.
While ESTA approval lets an applicant travel to the US for specific needs, it does not guarantee admission into the territory of the United States. Upon arrival at the entry port, the US Customs and Border Protection dept will review the case of each applicant. They can determine eligibility as per the country law. You require an ESTA even for a simple transit through United States territory. This is because US airports do not have a “transit zone”. The moment you get of your airplane you enter US territory.
Not sure if you are eligible for applying? Check here the passport requirements for ESTA Authorization.
When students can use ESTA instead of US student VISA
When the citizens of other countries seek entry to the USA, they need to apply for either an immigrant visa or a nonimmigrant visa. Foreign students are required to apply for a US student VISA. This can be either an M1 or an F1 visa. It depends on aspects like the type of school and the course of study. Usually, the US Universities or colleges, and high schools and most academic institutions use F-1 student visas. The recognized non-academic institutions opt for M-1 student visas. The study aimed at acquiring certification requires an F-1 visa, usually.
Students coming to the USA can bypass all of these if they opt for the ESTA but they have to fulfill certain conditions. Firstly, they have to be from countries that participate in the VWP. Besides, the stay duration for the study shall not exceed 90 days. This indicates the courses cannot be long term. One benefit of ESTA applicants is that they can bypass enrolling for medical insurance which the student Visa applicants cannot evade.
When using ESTA, applicants who want to study in the USA can only enroll in specific types of institutions and courses. Possible are classes at government-accredited institutions to study a language. However, they may not be able to opt for regular colleges or universities. They can, however, attend non-formal education events. The course has to be below 18 hours a week as well. You will not be able to pursue graduation or similar full-time degrees awarded by US universities by using ESTA. It would be prudent for the applicants to check with specific US universities and colleges to figure out if those offer short term courses that meet ESTA requirements.
Checking the ESTA visa status is important
Anyone must check the status of his/her ESTA application before traveling to the USA. This is the case for studying or any other work. In case of an expired ESTA application applying for new authorization is mandatory before the travel.
Additional things the ESTA applicants including students must remember
To make sure your application for ESTA is approved, a few aspects have to be analyzed carefully.
Passport details. You require a valid passport whether you use ESTA or any other type of VISA to travel to the USA. The passport is an identity document while ESTA serves as a travel permit to the USA. Your ESTA travel permit depends on the validity of details on your passport. If the information in your passport clanged after getting ESTA approval, you should submit a fresh ESTA application. If the customs agent gets any discrepancies between your passport and ESTA application, you may be denied entry to the USA. That, despite having an approved ESTA permit. After the renewal of the passport, you also need to apply for a travel visa another time.
Passport requirements for traveling to the USA under ESTA
Students and others applying for ESTA must learn about passport requirements. The passport must have a machine-readable part on its biographic page. The citizens of the below listed VWP countries have to produce electronic passports:
- South Korea
- Republic of Malta
The citizens hailing from all other ESTA Visa Waiver Programme covered countries may get clearance with a machine-readable passport.
See also: Travelling with your ESTA: practical tips for the proper conduct
What to do if your ESTA application is rejected?
For a majority of applicants/students belonging to countries covered by VWP, getting clearance soon after applying for ESTA is natural. However, there may be a few exceptions. ESTA application rejection does not equate to a rejection of entry to the USA. It simply denotes you cannot travel to the US using ESTA. You are still very much eligible to apply for US student VISA or other types of VISAs. You can thereafter contact the American Embassy in your country and undergo the regular process for Visa issuance. However, it is not prudent to retry for ESTA if the initial ESTA application is rejected.
The process for the USA ESTA application
Students applying for ESTA to study in the USA should learn the procedure and it is not tedious as such. The process of the USA ESTA application takes place online. You need a valid passport and credit/debit card to make the payment. Accepted are VISA and MasterCard debit cards. Also, American Express, MasterCard, Discover, and Visa. You also need to use a valid email id and a telephone number. The phone number is optional but useful for future needs.
The online application is simple and does not take more than 20 mins on average. Any modern computer with a stable internet connection will suffice to complete the process. You should have a web browser with basic security measures. The response is prompt and it comes within less than 3 days. Upon approval, processing fees and additional fees are charged. Before making the payment, it is prudent to check the information you have typed is correct. Everything including the date format has to be correct. Take note of the case number. This will be used for future verification or correction needs and to check the application status.
You may save your application and modify it and finish it later. You may only update the place of departure, Airlines Company, address in the USA, Contact telephone number, etc. For updating any data, you will need the case number and Passport number.