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Israel passes important hurdle to enter US Visa Waiver Program

Entering the program is a “complex and laborious process,” says U.S. Embassy.

An Israeli passport with visa and entry stamps. Credit: Israel.Travel.
An Israeli passport with visa and entry stamps. Credit: Israel.Travel.

Fiscal year 2022 saw a significant drop in the number of Israelis refused visas to enter the United States, for the first time falling under the 3% threshold to qualify for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, the U.S. Embassy in Israel said in a statement.

“Israel has made one huge step toward the visa waiver program,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides tweeted on Monday. However, he continued, much work remains to be done.

“The visa waiver refusal rate is under 3% and we’re announcing that today, but we’re not there yet. Dropping below 3% visa refusal rate is just the first step for Israel to complete the same process as 40 other countries around the world have done to get into the visa waiver program,” he said.

The U.S. Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries to enter the United States by obtaining a tourist visa upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry. This saves them the trouble of first securing a visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.

“Entry into the Visa Waiver Program is a complex and laborious process,” the U.S. Embassy statement continued. “The government of Israel must meet all requirements to enter the program, and a lot of work needs to be done in a very short amount of time. First, the Knesset is going to have to act. There are three laws that will need to be passed for Israel to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program.

“Second, the Israeli government, across government ministries, will have to move quickly to set up the many technical requirements needed to become eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. These are specific to data sharing and traveler screening, including information systems that have to be developed, then implemented, and tested.

“The window for Israel to complete these actions and pass the required laws closes in September 2023, which is the end of the U.S. fiscal year.

“Finally, reciprocity of travel is a fundamental requirement to enter this program. We seek equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity, including Palestinian Americans, seeking to enter or transit through Israel. This means that any person who has U.S. citizenship and holds an American passport will be able to fly to Israel on short term visits of less than 90 days, including travel to and out of the West Bank through Ben Gurion Airport.”

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