WASHINGTON – A bipartisan, bicameral group of congressmen has drafted
legislation that would allow Israelis to visit the United States for 90 days
without a visa.
The bill, announced at a press conference Tuesday, would
grant Israel the same status as 37 other US allies and help Israeli tourists and
businessmen travel to America more easily.
Rep. Brad Sherman
(D-California), who is sponsoring the House version along with Rep. Ted Poe
(R-Texas), said he believed the measure would pass during the two-year tenure of
the current Congress, but could take many months.
Sen. Ron Wyden
(D-Oregon) is entering similar legislation in the US Senate.
years ago, the US passed a law allowing countries for which less than 10 percent
of visa applications are turned down to participate in the visa waiver
Since 2007, many countries with higher refusal rates than
Israel’s 6.9% have been approved by the State Department, including Lithuania,
Latvia and Hungary, whose 2008 refusal rates were 9%, 8.3% and 7.8%
Sources familiar with the process said Israel was not
previously approved over concerns about Israeli Arabs who might have links to
Muslim terror groups, but that a screening mechanism is being worked out to
cover those cases and clear the path for Israel to join the
Sherman said the legislation, filed late in the previous
Congress and not approved by the end of the term, was boosted by Deputy Foreign
Minister Danny Ayalon’s presence on Capitol Hill this week to support the
“[This] year we have Danny Ayalon to symbolize to all my
colleagues, this isn’t like the 20th most important thing we can do for the
US-Israel relationship,” Sherman said while standing next to Ayalon, who joined
him at the press conference. “I won’t say it’s first on the list, but it’s among
the top five.”
“I’m sure this will give such a push to the bilateral
relationship,” Ayalon said, pointing particularly to science and technology
Several other members of Congress, including Florida
Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was chair of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee in the last Congress, also participated in the event to introduce the
“Israel has broad bipartisan support in the US House of
Representatives, and that’s what it will take to get it passed,” Poe said.