Visa update Part I – Visa Waiver ESTA and J1 Visa dilemma

For the last week I have been racking my brain and emailing every U.S. visa and immigration contact I could find an email address for online. It was driving me insane that everywhere I searched online, I could not find the answer to my one very important question. This question was the difference between a $1600 (inc tax) airfare or a $4000 airfare so receiving a response was imperative to me financial wellbeing.

The issue at hand…

Granted I pass my visa interview next week, before heading to Disney, I want to swing by Montreal, Quebec to visit some friends I made last summer on Contiki through Europe. Pretty much every airline except for Air Canada have a stop over in Los Angeles, meaning I would have to clear immigration at LA airport. I had been advised by Disney that I was not allowed to enter the U.S. on my J1 visa then fly to Canada as it would cause issues for me in regard to the Disney College Program. So the question I was desperately seeking an answer to was…

“Can I clear immigration at LAX on a Visa Waiver (ESTA) in transit to Montreal, Quebec, despite having the J1 visa in my passport? (I wouldn’t be leaving LAX, I’d just need to change flights there). Then, when I fly from Montreal back into the U.S. at this point I will enter the U.S. on my J1 visa to avoid interference with the Disney Program.”

If the answer was going to be a no, then my only option would be to purchase a ticket with Air Canada as they fly direct from Australia to Vancouver which means I would be able to by-pass U.S. immigration. The only problem with this is a one-way ticket from Melbourne – Vancouver flying Air Canada is $3000 AU! And that is only one-way, I would still need a return airfare which would more than likely be another $1000 AU! Ridiculous. On the contrary, however, if the answer is a yes and I can transit through LA on a Visa Waiver ESTA, then I could purchase a return Melbourne – Los Angeles airfare for $1600 AU including taxes!!! $4000 and $1600… BIG difference!

The solution…

On my quest to find a response to this question, I was kindly directed to the CBP.gov (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) website. I searched every inch of pixel on that website trying to find the answer to my question, but no such success. However, what I did find was a nifty little section where you could ‘Find an Answer, Ask a Question‘. I searched through the question and answer database but still had no luck with an accurate response. After several search attempts, I noticed a new tab had become available which allowed me to submit my own question… PERFECT!

I submitted my question last night and was extremely impressed to see a response waiting for me in my email inbox today… less than 24 hours, amazing! The best part is, it was the response I wanted to hear!!!

“What your immigration “intent” is to do, is to make entry at LAX as a traveler for business / pleasure for which as an Australian citizen, if eligible, you may use the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA. You may do this because your “intent” is not to go to work at this time. Then after your holiday, it will be your “intent” to make entry as a J1 in Orlando.

With this scenario having the J1 visa in your possession is not a problem.

So, may you do this, yes.”

Problem solved. I am, however, going to print this response out and carry it with me through immigration in case I am given any hassles. I applaud the speed in which my submission was attended to, it was amazing, especially given the fact that they must receive a plethora of questions on a daily basis.

Five more days until my visa interview! Excitedness! Once I get the all clear, I’m off to STA Travel to purchase my airfares! YAY! I can’t wait to be done with all this paperwork…

Visa papers taking up my bedroom floor space!

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5 Responses to Visa update Part I – Visa Waiver ESTA and J1 Visa dilemma

  1. That makes sense to go in using visa waiver, however when you present your passport to the customs officer, they will see the J1 and try to process that. At the very least they will ask a lot of questions, they may even make you enter on the J1. A lot of discretion is given to them and you could find a customs officer who is uncoperative on the day and this might cause a whole lot of problems.
    Can your Canadian friends come down to Orlando to visit you instead?

    I wouldn’t do it, if it were me, just in case. Even having a print out of that email won’t change much if the custom’s officer on the day does not like the process.

  2. Lynnie says:

    Awww crap. Now you have confused me. The immigration officer who wrote back to me said they will usually 99% of the time have no problem letting you through on the Visa Waiver and I have the officers name too.

  3. Sorry, I feel bad. I just don’t want anything to get in the way of you being here, selfish bitch that I am.
    I didn’t realise it was an immigration officer that wrote you that email, that makes a difference.
    I just worry about that 1%, but I am a born worrier! Don’t listen to me, listen to the customs agent. 🙂

  4. Lynnie says:

    The guy that wrote back was also the Program Manager of ESTA which is the new thing that has replaced the visa waiver. You don’t fill in that green form on the plane anymore, you do it all online 72 hours before departure and it is valid for 2 years at a time.

  5. There are certainly a good deal of details like that to take into consideration. That is a excellent point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the a single you bring up where the most important issue will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as being a fair game.

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