Israelis became eligible on Thursday to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa—more than a month earlier than the estimated date, the Israeli Embassy in Washington announced.
Israel was admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program on Sept. 27, although authorities said at the time that it would take two more months to put all the final measures in place.
Israeli citizens with a biometric passport are now able to visit America by filling out an online Electronic System for Travel Authorization application at least 72 hours before their trip.
Israelis who have already applied for an ESTA application said they received an answer within hours, according to Israel Hayom.
Once granted, eligibility lasts for two years. Israelis who travel to the United States for longer periods, such as for studies or work, will still need regular visas.
Israel is the only Middle East country to be added to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, joining 40 other nations.
Israelis above the age of 18 without a biometric passport are not eligible for the program; nor are individuals who previously overstayed their visas or have a criminal record.
Israel has sought acceptance into the Visa Waiver Program for decades. One of the issues holding up its admittance has been the U.S. requirement that Israeli authorities treat all American citizens equally, including Palestinian Arabs who hold American citizenship.
A U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department delegation observed operations during the trial, with inspections at Ben-Gurion International Airport and crossings into Judea and Samaria.
Other requirements Israel met included allowing the Israel Police to share biometric data with U.S. law-enforcement agencies, a change requiring Knesset legislation. Israel also passed a significant hurdle when the number of Israelis refused visas to enter the United States for the first time dropped below a 3% threshold—a benchmark set by the State Department.
“We have been working on this for years, almost a decade, especially over the past year during which we passed extensive Knesset legislation that made possible the legal basis for this action,” stated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon Israel’s acceptance into the program.
“This decision is additional testimony to the strong ties between Israel and the U.S. I would like to express our appreciation to U.S. President Joe Biden for his support of the initiative, which will further strengthen ties between the two peoples,” the prime minister continued.
“Warm wishes to all the citizens of Israel and have a pleasant flight,” he said.