US set to waive visa requirements for Israelis


( Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Monday that Israel is on the verge of finalizing an agreement that would allow Israeli citizens to enter the U.S. without obtaining a tourist visa in advance.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers screen international passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport in November 2016. Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Glenn Fawcett.

The deal would allow the U.S. to access a new biometric database of Israeli citizens who have been convicted of serious crimes, in the event that an Israeli citizen is suspected of criminal activity punishable by more than 10 years in prison.

The U.S. had previously demanded that it be allowed unrestricted access to Israel’s entire biometric database without an Israeli citizen being suspected of committing a crime, but shifted its position after negotiations with Shaked.

“[We are] completing the agreement to cancel the visas. Since I began my post, we have been working with the Americans in order to join the selected group of countries whose citizens are exempt from obtaining an entry visa to the US,” Shaked tweeted Monday. “We have found the balance between maintaining the privacy of Israeli citizens and the American demands.” 

Shaked is scheduled to travel to the U.S. within two weeks to finalize the agreement, which would come into effect within one to two years. Israel’s Knesset must also approve the agreement due to the sensitivity and private nature of the government data that would be shared with U.S. authorities. 

Shawn Evenhaim, a member of the Israeli-American Council's (IAC) national board, told that the IAC "strongly supports any steps taken to streamline the process for Israeli citizens to enter the U.S."

"As citizens of both Israel and the United States, we are dedicated to strengthening the relationship between our fellow Israelis and our fellow Americans," Evenhaim said. "Israel's entry into the Visa Waiver Program will ensure that our Israeli friends and family can come to visit us and celebrate our weddings and b'nai mitzvah more easily and efficiently. We want Israel’s innovators and business leaders in high-tech, biotech, cyber security, and many other fields to increase their collaboration with American companies, which will build a brighter future for the people of the U.S., the people of Israel, and the whole world."

Posted on November 14, 2017 .