The US visa waiver program allows tourists to visit America for 90 days without the need to apply for a travel visa.
Thirty-seven countries are included in the US visa waiver program, including Andorra, Hungary, and South Korea. Israel is not.
For at least a year now, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been leading a legislative effort in the US to get Israel included in the program.
One of the main sticking points preventing Israel from joining has been Israel’s relatively high visa refusal rate for US citizens. To join the program, prospective countries must consistently score below 3 percent on the visa refusal rate. In recent years, Israel has failed to reach this mark.
Israel’s more robust airport security techniques, which prevent some Americans with Muslim or Arab names from entry, have widely been blamed for this higher rate.
An AIPAC-backed bill on enhancing the Israeli- US relationship that was introduced a year ago has proposed that Israel’s special security challenges – successfully met by more stringent security measures – be taken into consideration and that the US show flexibility with Israel on its 3 percent requirement.
Unfortunately, this legislation has stalled in the Senate. It should be pointed out, however, that while no other country has been allowed on the US visa waiver program without first meeting the 3% requirement, countries that are already in the program, such as Hungary and South Korea, have in recent years registered a much higher refusal rate than Israel’s, according to a recent report by JTA’s Ron Kampeas.
Now there is another reason being put forward by US officials for restricting visas to Israelis – particularly those in their 20s who have just completed IDF service. The US State Department suspects that many of these young Israeli nationals applying to visit the US will violate the terms of their visas by selling real and fake Dead Sea cosmetics at shopping malls and working at other jobs illegally across the US.
This US State Department position has emerged from correspondence between Sen.
Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to Secretary of State John Kerry and James Ragsdale, the acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Essentially, US officials are presuming – without any clear evidence – that Israeli applicants will violate their visas. As a result, all young Israelis are being subjected to collective punishment.
We can only wonder whether young people from Britain, France, Italy, Germany or Greece are scrutinized in the same way.
Numerous US lawmakers have questioned this policy. Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Grace Meng (D-NY), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, along with Sens. Schumer, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) have all pressed the US administration to ease up on the visa denials to young Israelis.
Faced with unique security challenges, Israel has put in place a security protocol at its airports – particularly at Ben-Gurion Airport – which tends to subject Arabs, Muslims, and foreigners in general to far more stringent and intrusive interrogation techniques than those used on Israelis and Jews.
As a result of profiling potential risks, American Muslims and Arabs are sometimes refused travel visas, in the interest of state security. Such preventive actions have made Israel’s security procedures effective, and even a role model for other countries.
The US should take this into consideration and decide to add Israel to its visa waiver program.