WASHINGTON – Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, spoke on Wednesday with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and discussed including Israelis in America’s visa waiver program.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of certain countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Thirty-nine countries are currently eligible for the program, most of them European.
According to Israel’s embassy in Washington, Erdan told Mayorkas that including Israel in the program would demonstrate the close relationship between the two countries.
The two agreed to establish working groups to examine the subject and present recommendations to them.
A DHS press release said, the two “exchanged views on steps Israel is taking to meet the eligibility requirements of the US Visa Waiver Program.”
Including Israel in the program has been a matter of ongoing discussions between Jerusalem and Washington for years.
In 2014, during the Obama administration, the State Department stated that “the Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program.”
The required maximum rate of refusal of entry for entering the US visa waiver program is 3%. Israeli officials estimated that last year, Israel’s rate of rejection was at around 4%.
In 2017, during the administration of former president Donald Trump, a State Department spokesperson told Globes that Israel does not meet all the requirements to be included in the program.
“The waiver program is a bilateral program run by the Department of Homeland Security with advice from the State Department,” the spokesperson said. “The visa waiver program poses very strict requirements, including the demand that the rate of visa refusals among people in the country seeking to join the program be less than 3% of the number of visa applicants. Other requirements obligate the country seeking to implement certain arrangements for information exchanges.