US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro..
(photo credit: Courtesy of US embassy Israel)
Young Israelis are welcome in the United States, and the State Department is making efforts to permit as many of them into the country as is possible, Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, said on Sunday.
In a statement posted on his Facebook account, Shapiro was responding to a report over the weekend indicating that the US government is hesitant to waive the requirement for tourist visas for Israelis wishing to travel to the states due to the American intelligence community’s concerns that it would make it easier for Israeli spies to enter the country.
“[People at] the State Department are aware of the fact that despite the two-thirds of young Israelis whose visa applications are approved, there are a few people with the mistaken view that Israeli youngsters are not welcome in the United States,” Shapiro wrote on his Facebook page.
“This is certainly not the case,” the ambassador wrote. “Israel is one of our closest allies, and we welcome all opportunities to foster ties between Israelis and Americans, including visits to the US.”
“We will do whatever we can in order to encourage eligible Israelis to visit the US,” the ambassador said. “We are also forming joint working groups with the Israeli government which will look into placing Israel in the visa waiver program.”
“It will take time until Israel meets all of the criteria as stated by law, but this is a goal shared by both countries,” Shapiro wrote.
The ambassador said that while “not all visa applicants are eligible for visas by law,” the government would seek to “increase the number of those who do receive visas.”
Earlier in the week, JTA reported that the US and Israel are creating a working group to help Israel advance toward joining the visa waiver program.
“This is a goal of both the United States and Israel, and it would make travel easier for citizens of both countries,” Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, said in a letter sent Thursday to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
Permitting Israel into the visa waiver program would exempt Israeli nationals from having to produce a tourist visa, allowing them to stay in the country for a period of up to 90 days.
Until now, the widespread perception has been that two major obstacles have kept Israel from joining the program - allegations by US officials that Israel has discriminated against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry, and a proliferation of young Israelis traveling to the United States as tourists and then working illegally.
According to Roll Call, however, intelligence officials in Washington have expressed their reservations to Congress regarding the potential harm that could be done to US national security by Israeli spies who could exploit the waiver.