As a general rule, any foreign national seeking to temporarily enter the U.S. must present a PASSPORT (valid for a minimum of six months from the date of the expiration of the initial period of the alien's admission) AND a valid nonimmigrant VISA. However, there are certain EXCEPTIONS to this general rule. This section discusses some of those exceptions.
One of the most important exceptions is under the VISA WAIVER PROGRAM, which exempts citizens of participating countries from to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days WITHOUT A VISA provided that certain conditions are met.
U.S. immigration law also allows for some citizens of certain countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa, such as Canadians and Mexicans under certain circumstances. Note that this type of travel is usually for short term, "tourist" type travel. See below for a list of countries whose nationals may be entitled to this type of exception to the general passport and visa rule. Note also that although Canadians in TN status, usually do not obtain a visa, TN status is considered a form of work authorization, and is not covered in this section.
In addition, there are certain classes who are exempt from the general rule requiring a passport and visa to enter the U.S. temporarily, as stated in the applicable federal regulation (22 CFR § 41.), as follows:
(a) Alien members of the U.S. Armed Forces. An alien member of the U.S. Armed Forces in uniform or bearing proper military identification, who has not been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, coming to the United States under official orders or permit of such Armed Forces (Sec. 284, 86 Stat. 232; 8 U.S.C. 1354).
(b) American Indians born in Canada. An American Indian born in Canada, having at least 50 per centum of blood of the American Indian race (Sec. 289, 66 Stat. 234; 8 U.S.C. 1359.)
(c) Aliens entering from Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands. An alien departing from Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands of the United States, and seeking to enter the continental United States or any other place under the jurisdiction of the United States (Sec. 212, 66 Stat. 188; 8 U.S.C. 1182.)
(d) Armed Services personnel of a NATO member. Personnel belonging to the armed services of a government which is a Party to the North Atlantic Treaty and which has ratified the Agreement Between the Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty Regarding the Status of Their Forces, signed at London on June 19, 1951, and entering the United States under Article III of that Agreement pursuant to an individual or collective movement order issued by an appropriate agency of the sending state or of NATO (TIAS 2846; 4 U.S.T. 1792.)
(e) Armed Services personnel attached to a NATO headquarters in the United States. Personnel attached to a NATO Headquarters in the United States set up pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty, belonging to the armed services of a government which is a Party to the Treaty and entering the United States in connection with their official duties under the provisions of the Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters Set Up Pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty (TIAS 2978; 5 U.S.T. 875.)
(f) Aliens entering pursuant to International Boundary and Water Commission Treaty. All personnel employed either directly or indirectly on the construction, operation, or maintenance of works in the United States undertaken in accordance with the treaty concluded on February 3, 1944, between the United States and Mexico regarding the functions of the International Boundary and Water Commission, and entering the United States temporarily in connection with such employment (59 Stat. 1252; TS 994.)
[52 FR 42597, Nov. 5, 1987, as amended at 56 FR 30428, July 2, 1991; 61 FR 1835, Jan. 24, 1996]