newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Is US visa waiver in danger?

Israel has met all eligibility requirements but tensions with the Biden administration may forestall admission.

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

Israel has met all eligibility requirements to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, with the only thing to possibly delay the move being the Biden administration‘s reluctance with regard to what it views as “the most extreme” Israeli government ever.

According to Israeli officials involved in the matter, the United States is in the final stages of examining the matter. Although Israel gave the U.S. carte blanche in terms of demands, it is concerned that admission will not materialize due to political issues.

Israel is the closest it has been in over a decade to joining the Visa Waiver Program, one of the officials said. The issue is at a critical point as the U.S. will have to decide soon whether to allow Israel to join. The biggest fear is that unless Israel is admitted now, it will walk away empty-handed and have to start from scratch again the next time.

The current round of negotiations with regard to the Visa Waiver Program was launched by then-Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during the Bennett-Lapid government but is now being led by National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. 

Hanegbi said in response to an Israel Hayom inquiry that over the past six months, Israel has met all requirements, and from a professional standpoint nothing stands in its way to join the program. 

He said that following Prime Miniter Benjamin Netanyahu’s instructions, all state authorities worked in a coordinated manner so that Israelis would be exempt from the need for a visa to visit the U.S. 

“The Knesset committees, especially the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, passed complex legislation on an unprecedented schedule. U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides acted in an exceptional manner with us, and without him, we would not have had a chance to reach where we are. Now the decision lies with the political echelon in the U.S. government: the Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security [Alejandro] Mayorkas.”

Hanegbi expressed optimism with regard to the decision, calling both Blinken and Mayorkas “friends of Israel,” and belief “that their considerations will be purely professional.”

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