Israel has passed its most important hurdle for eligibility in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) by hitting the 3% or less mark of American refusal to its requests for non-immigrant visas.
The United States released the 3% figure when it published its global list of visa refusal rates on Monday morning.
“Israel has made one huge step,” US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in a video he released to celebrate the moment.
Both he and the US issued a cautionary note to Israel, however, that this was just the first step in a complex process that must be completed by the end of September.
“We are not there yet,” Nides said, adding that Israel now has to “complete the same process that 40 other countries from the world have done to get into the Visa Waiver Program.”
“Israel now has a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” he said. “The whole Israeli government will have to move quickly. Entry into the Visa Waiver Program is a complex and laborious process. Being below the 3% non-immigrant visa refusal rate is just one of the many steps that Israel must undertake to join the program.”
The Knesset must approve three laws to allow for the program to be operational, Nides said, and then Israel will have to put in place a list of technical requirements. These are specific to data sharing and traveler screening, including information systems that have to be developed and then implemented and tested, he said.
Nides underscored, however, that one of the most important elements for Israeli eligibility into the program is “equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, religion or ethnicity, including Palestinian Americans, seeking to enter or transit through Israel.”
This means “that any person who has US citizenship and holds an American passport will be able to fly to Israel on short-term visits of less than 90 days, including travel to and out of the West Bank through Ben-Gurion Airport,” he said.
Israel currently bans most Palestinian travel through Ben-Gurion Airport for security reasons, even in cases where the Palestinians hold US passports. It is expected that this will be the most significant stumbling block for Israel.
“Freedom of travel is the fundamental basis of the Visa Waiver Program,” Nides said.
“It’s my hope we can get this done,” he added. “It’s good for Israelis, and it’s good for all Americans.”
Eli Cohen: This is good news for all citizens of Israel
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen welcomed the report.
“This is good news for all citizens of Israel,” he said.
Cohen speculated that Israel would be able to meet other requirements and that 2023 will be the year that Israelis will be able to start visiting the US without “the need to obtain a visa from the American Embassy.
“I thank the president of the United States, Joe Biden, for his support and leadership in granting visa exemptions to Israelis,” he said.
News of the Israeli eligibility for the VWP was publicized just hours before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to land in Jerusalem for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.