By KTA News Team |

Announcement of Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) by the US government.

Background and Negotiations About The Visa Waiver Program

September 28, 2023: The US government have finally announced of their agreement to include Israel in its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which will allow Israeli citizens to travel to the US without a need to apply and obtain a pre-entry visa at the US consulate.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Update

By November 30, 2023, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be updated to allow citizens and nationals of Israel to apply to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without first obtaining a U.S. visa, a step which further strengthens the security, economic and people-to-people ties between the United States and Israel.

Fulfillment of Conditions by Israel

September 21, 2023: Israel fulfilled all the conditions set by the US to achieve a visa exemption. The US is expected to announce the visa exemption for Israelis on September 26, the day following Yom Kippur.

The announcement is anticipated to come several days prior to the official date, potentially even next week. Should the US greenlight the visa waiver for Israelis, they can quickly apply online. With minimal cost and no need for a scheduled appointment, Israelis will be able to buy flight tickets to the US without the hassle of obtaining a visa.

US Senators’ Concerns

September 9, 2023: A consortium of 15 Democratic senators expressed reservations, penning a letter to US Secretary of State, urging caution regarding Israel’s inclusion in the VWP. Their concerns revolve around Israel’s potential Israeli inability to meet all requisite conditions by the September 30, 2023 deadline.

Nevertheless, there’s palpable optimism that the US may soon issue a favorable announcement, progressing towards formalizing Israel’s participation in the VWP.

September 1, 2023: At the close of July 2023, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Mr. Herzog, in tandem with the then-serving American ambassador to Israel, Mr. Nides, inked a “reciprocity agreement.” This pact delineated the terms for Israel’s inclusion in the visa waiver program (VWP).

Pilot Program for Palestinian-Americans

For years, Israel has aspired to be part of the US VWP – a program that permits citizens of participating countries to travel to the US without obtaining a visa, streamlining what can otherwise be a long and uncertain process. Yet, joining the VWP has been an uphill battle for Israel due to stringent criteria. One significant hurdle has been the mandate for Israel to accord equal treatment to Palestinian-Americans, Arab Americans, and Muslim Americans upon their arrival in Israel, similar to how any other US citizen would be treated.

In a promising move toward fulfilling this mandate, Israel initiated a pilot program recently, aimed at simplifying the entry process for Palestinian-Americans. Running until September 30, this trial will grant all US passport holders the ability to enter Israel. If the US is convinced by the program’s implementation and results, Israel could be on the brink of joining the ranks of the 39 nations already enjoying the benefits of the VWP.

The criteria for VWP membership are clear: countries must establish a reciprocal relationship that ensures freedom of movement for each other’s citizens. Furthermore, visa application procedures should have comparable rejection rates and should be equally straightforward.

Under the pilot initiative, Palestinian-Americans can now avail a 90-day travel pass, a vast improvement from the previously lengthy and bureaucratic procedures they faced. Furthermore, they can expect reduced security checks at Israeli airports, an area where they historically faced more scrutiny.

All applications during this trial period are being processed by the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Additionally, Americans can now arrive via Ben Gurion airport and traverse freely across Israel, including visits to the West Bank.

Estimates place the number of Americans of Palestinian descent between 122,500 to as high as 400,000. However, while the pilot seems promising, it has faced challenges.