Travellers that have ever been to Iran or Iraq are not always able to apply for an ESTA. This also holds for travellers that have ever been to Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia. This concerns trips that were made after 1 March 2011. People that possess a passport issued by Iran, Iraq, or one of the other countries mentioned above generally do not qualify for an ESTA to travel to the USA.
Visit to Iran or Iraq after 1 March 2011
Were you in Iraq or Iran before 2011, but you’ve never held an Iranian or Iraqi passport? Then you can submit an ESTA application as normal. Only if after 1 March of 2011 you were to Iran or Iraq, you no longer qualify for an ESTA. The same holds if you’ve been to Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia.
I (used to) possess an Iranian or Iraqi passport
Do you hold a passport that was issued by Iran or Iraq? Then you do not qualify for an ESTA to travel to the USA. This also applies to passports that were issued by Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia. Even if you also possess a passport from a country that’s part of the Visa Waiver Program (such as the UK), it’s not possible to apply for an ESTA. This exclusion even applies if you ever (at any point) possessed a passport issued by Iran, Iraq or one of the other countries mentioned above. Even if this was before 2011.
How to still travel to the USA
If due to your travel history you do not qualify for an ESTA, this does not automatically mean that you cannot travel to the USA period. It simply means that you need to follow a different route to get the correct travel authorisation. In that case, you can go to the US embassy, where you can apply for a non-immigrant visa. Usually, an extensive background check regarding your travels to Iran or Iraq is required.