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Why was my ESTA USA denied?

Why was my ESTA USA denied?

An ESTA is usually a fool-proof way to travel to the USA: it’s cheap, easy to apply for and you usually receive it within a few days, often even the same day. But in rare cases, an ESTA USA application can be denied. What options are available to you then?

Why are the ESTA rules so strict?
If you are eligible for an ESTA, it’s the best and easiest way to travel to the USA, since it removes the need to go through the cumbersome visa application process. Just fill out the form, press “submit”, make the payment, and just sit back until you receive the approval e-mail. But that first bit, being eligible for one, can sometimes be a hassle. The ESTA program, officially known as the Visa Waiver Program, was introduced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA. The goal was to tighten domestic security by screening applicants pre-departure. That is also the reason why the rules are so strict.

Here are some common things to keep in mind when applying for an ESTA, to make the chance of rejection as low as possible.

Accidents happen, but US Customs doesn’t care
Did you accidentally answer “yes” to one of the ESTA safety questions at the bottom of the form? No worries, right? You can just submit a new application. Wrong! If the ESTA is rejected because of a mistake like this, you can be near certain any future ESTA applications will also be rejected. US Customs and Border Protection is not interested in your excuses or explanations. All they see is a rejected application, which to them means they need to block any future attempts. So fill in the form very carefully, and double-check all the fields you fill in before making the payment. Better to be safe than sorry!

Your travel history and nationality
Have you ever been to Syria, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea, Yemen, Libya or Iraq in or after 2011? Then your ESTA application will be rejected. These are considered high-risk countries by US Customs. They are so strict that even if you simply went there to visit family, the ESTA application will still be rejected. And don’t bother lying on the application form. Not only will US Customs find out, it can lead to severe punishments, such as not being able to travel to the USA at all for several years, not even with a visa.

If you have the nationality of one of the countries above, your ESTA application will very likely also be rejected. What some people may not know is that this also applies if you have ever at some point held the nationality of one of these countries, even if you have legally lost it (for example, due to acquiring a new nationality).

If you or your parents were not born in your current country of residence, check whether you still hold the nationality of your birth country, or that of your parents. Some countries automatically grant citizenship to children of legal citizens. With other countries, it’s impossible to legally lose your nationality once acquiring it, even if you acquire a new nationality. If you have dual nationality, you must fill this in on the ESTA form. If you don’t, it increases the chances of rejection.

Employment status can matter
Unemployed persons can apply for an ESTA as normal. In the form, they can fill in that they are currently unemployed, and submit the application form as normal. However, experience shows that unemployed persons have a higher chance of having their application rejected. This is because US Customs considers these persons to have a higher chance of overstaying their ESTA, for example for financial reasons. As such, these kinds of application are rejected more commonly than those of employed persons.

My ESTA was rejected, what do I do?
A rejected ESTA doesn’t mean travel to the USA is out of the question for good. You can still apply for a visa. This is a separate procedure from the ESTA. The benefit of a visa application is that you can actually explain the details of your personal circumstances during the interview, something that is not possible during an ESTA application. However, a visa application is more expensive than an ESTA application and it takes a lot longer to be processed.