By Amit Acco, Partner | Director at the Israeli American Chambers of Commerce.
After years of lobbying by Jerusalem, President Biden after meeting with Israeli PM Bennet stated that:
“We will direct our efforts to work together toward Israel’s fulfillment of the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program.”
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced this week that the United States is considering adding four countries to its visa waiver program. There are currently 40 countries in the program. In September, Croatia became the 40th country to join the program, after Poland joined in 2019.
“We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania,” said US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, according to Reuters. “We’re very, very focused on the program,”
Israel has long been lobbying to be added to the US visa waiver program, which would enable all Israeli citizens to visit the United States for up to 90 days for tourism or business. Currently, any Israeli seeking to travel to the US, even briefly, must go through a visa application process.
To participate in the program, a country must meet requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management. Additionally, the current rejection rate for Israeli applicants for US visas is 4.5 percent — and must fall below 3% to enter the visa waiver program.
It will be noted that the US State Department made it clear in 2014 that Israel could not qualify for the program due to its treatment of Arab Americans, especially those of Palestinian origin, seeking to enter the country. One of the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program is a clear commitment to reciprocity. This means ensuring that Israel treats all American citizens reciprocally when they enter its territory, as the United States is committed to doing toward all Israeli citizens