The ESTA eligibility questions determine your ability to obtain an approved authorization. U.S. immigration authorities are particularly interested in knowing whether applicants have ever been denied admission to, or been deported from, the United States, whether applicants have ever been arrested in the United States, whether the applicant has a criminal record in any country, the applicant’s travel outside of the United States within the past five years, including to countries in Africa or the Middle East, and whether applicants have ever been involved in any terrorist activities, among others.
Here is a summary of the nine ESTA eligibility questions as well as how you can interpret these questions when completing your ESTA application.
Eligibility Question 1 – Physical or Mental Disorders
Do you have a physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict; or do you currently have any of the following diseases (communicable diseases are specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act):
- Tuberculosis, infectious
- Yellow Fever
- Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, Crimean-Congo
- Severe acute respiratory illnesses capable of transmission to other persons and likely to cause mortality.
The first of the ESTA eligibility questions is regarding an applicant’s physical or mental disorders. You will be required to disclose if you have any of the listed highly transmittable bacterial or viral infections. These include cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, plague, smallpox as well as others.
You will also need to disclose if you have any mental disorders or a history of mental disorder that posed a threat to yourself or others. If you no longer suffer from mental health conditions which may cause harm to yourself, others or their property, then you are considered to no longer be suffering from a mental disorder that would render your ESTA application ineligible.
Furthermore, if you are a drug user or addict, you will need to disclose this on the form and as a result you may not be allowed to enter the United States via the Visa Waiver Program under section § 212(a)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and section 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(1)(A) of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Eligibility Question 2 – Criminal History
Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
Next, you must answer the ESTA eligibility question pertaining to criminal convictions. The question specifically asks whether you have been convicted of a crime, been charged with a crime, or are awaiting trial, in any country, even if you have not been convicted. The U.S. government wishes to ensure that none of the visa applicants have been accused or convicted of any crime. As such, if you have been convicted or charged with a crime or are awaiting trial, you will not be eligible for an ESTA.
Eligibility Question 3 – Illegal Drug Usage or Possession
Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?
The third ESTA eligibility question is regarding illegal drug possession, distribution or usage. You will be asked to disclose if you have possessed, used or distributed drugs that are illegal in your country. If so, you will need to answer “yes” to this third question.
Eligibility Question 4 – Destabilizing Activities
Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?
This question clearly states the types of activities that lead to instability or harm to others or a country. You will need to disclose activities that fall under the following categories:
- Terrorism is the use of violence, threats or fear as a means to obtain influence or a result from a government, person or other entity.
- Espionage is spying on a government to illegally obtain information from governments, companies, individuals or other entities.
- Sabotage is the interference of the activities conducted by individuals, governments, companies or other entities in the hopes of aiding your own personal interests or those of others.
- Genocide is the killing of people who belong to a particular race, nationality, religion, political party or other group of individuals.
Eligibility Question 5 – Deceptive History to enter the U.S.
Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?
You will need to disclose your previous history of deception to enter the United States. This includes aiding others as well as yourself. Such activities include falsely providing information or using fake evidence as part of a visa or ESTA application for yourself or others.
Eligibility Question 6 – Employment Intentions
Are you currently seeking employment in the United States or were you previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the U.S. government?
If you are applying for an ESTA to obtain employment in the United States you will need to disclose this on the form. There are instances where individuals have used ESTA to attend job interviews in the United States. However, applicants may be subject to questioning at the U.S. border. Based on your situation, you will need to determine how the question should be accurately answered depending on your circumstances. If you answer “yes”, it is likely your ESTA will be denied. If you are concerned about being denied an ESTA, you can request your potential employer to conduct a virtual interview on Zoom or other video application.
Eligibility Question 7 – Previous U.S. Entry or Visa Denials
Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a U.S. port of entry?
The seventh ESTA eligibility question pertains to previous visa denials. The U.S. government wants to ensure that you have not been denied entry into the country for any reason. If you are aware of any previous visa denials, you must answer “yes” to this question. You will be required to provide information on details of when and where the denial occured.
Eligibility Question 8 – Overstayers
Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the admission period granted to you by the U.S. government?
If you have previously overstayed a visa or an ESTA, you will need to disclose this on the application form. Any occasion where you have overstayed a U.S. visa or ESTA by even one day means you are an overstayer. It is likely your application will be denied when answering “yes” to this question.
Eligibility Question 9 – Travel History
Have you traveled to, or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?
The Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 resulted in the addition of this question on the ESTA application form. If you have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen then you will need to answer “yes” to this question. You will also need to provide the country, the dates as well as one of twelve reasons for your travel. The reasons include
- To travel as a tourist (vacation)For personal travel or a family visit (including emergencies).
- For commercial / business purposes.Carry out official duties as a full-time employee of the government of a Visa Waiver Program country.
- Perform military service in the armed forces of a Visa Waiver Program country.
- Conduct work as a journalist.
- Engage in humanitarian assistance on behalf of a humanitarian or international non-governmental organization.
- Carry out official duties on behalf of an international organization or regional (multilateral or inter-governmental) organization.
- Conduct official duties on behalf of a sub-national government or body of a VWP country
- Attend an academic institution.
- Participate in a professional exchange or conference
- Participate in a cultural exchange program.
At the U.S. border of entry, you may be asked to provide proof of your stated reasons above. Not disclosing such previous travel will result in denial of your ESTA application.
Applicants are advised to not mislead with their answers to the ESTA eligibility questions on the application form. Due to data sharing agreements among U.S. government entities and international parties, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is aware of many of the answers of the ESTA eligibility questions on the form. Thus, honesty is the best policy for ESTA applicants. If you are hoping to visit the United States via the VWP, visit the ESTA requirements for more information.