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ESTAs and Changing Your Legal Status in America 2024

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If you are in the United States on an ESTA and you are coming to the end of your admitted term, then what options are available to you whether you find a job or not? It's more limited than if you were here on a visa, and it's important that you assess your personal situation.

First off, just a recap on what the ESTA is:

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

Basically, it's the way to get to the United States without getting a visa and is available to citizens from a limited number of countries, who pass specific requirements.

While the ESTA you apply for is “valid” for 2 years, this does not mean you can enter the US and stay for two years, instead:

It only allows you to travel to the U.S. under the terms of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which only allows you to stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less. If you plan to stay for longer than 90 days, you must obtain a visa at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

What to do if you're coming to the end of your 90 day ESTA

So if you're coming to the end of your 90 days it is important that you do not overstay this. If you've tried to get a flight but can't, then you do have an option.

Customs and Border Protection have made an official release about “Satisfactory Departure” as an option for you:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today that Visa Waiver Program travelers who have been granted satisfactory departure may apply for an additional 30-day extension of their admission period if they remain unable to depart the United States because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The extension grants flexibility to Visa Waiver Program travelers who have difficulty returning to their countries due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions, flight cancellations or illness. Travelers who are granted satisfactory departure will have an additional 30days to depart the United States after their lawful period of admission concludes.

If this is you, then you can either contact:

  1. Any local CBP Port of Entry or Deferred Inspection Site; or
  2. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Contact Center.

You will need to provide your passport number and from what I've heard, you will need to look into what flights are available to you to extend towards. This is not a way to simply renew an ESTA and it's not a way to stay for much longer. The idea is that if you're having difficulty getting flights, they're willing to extend your status for the few days it takes to find another one.

A always, use extra care when planning this as you don't want to overstay.

Can you transfer your ESTA to a visa?

While there are options available to visa holders if their term is coming to an end, this is not the case for those on an ESTA.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the ESTA and Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you are not able to transfer to another visa to extend your stay in any way.

This includes transferring internally to another work visa like an E3 visa, or a tourist visa like a B1 or B2 visa.

How do you transfer from an ESTA to a visa?

If you do want to move to a visa (e.g. if you have been offered a job) then you will need to leave the country and then look into applying through a Consulate or Embassy.

This then kicks off the whole process of getting a visa, and you'll find lots of advice throughout this site for the steps required!

Josh Pugh

Josh Pugh

Josh is a business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States – and launched America Josh. Josh is also the President of Variety – the Children's Charity of New York, Secretary at The Mateship Foundation, and Founder & CEO at Fortnight Digital.View Author posts

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