Israel has not met the eligibility requirements to join the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the US State Department said on Wednesday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected his country to join soon.
Netanyahu announced on Wednesday morning that Israel is expected to be able to join the US Visa Waiver Program in September 2023.
The waiver program will allow Israelis to travel to the US visa-free, which is not currently possible.
The main hurdle left to clear
Israel is yet to grant free passage for Palestinian-Americans at its airports and into the West Bank, which Washington says is required for Israel to meet the condition of reciprocity to join the program, which would allow Israelis visa-free access to the United States.
Israel "still has significant work to complete on a short timeline to meet all program requirements" by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said by email.
In a department press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Patel further reiterated there is not an update to offer on the status of the visa waiver program.
"Israel’s future admission into the visa waiver program as something that’s mutually beneficial to the US and Israel," he said. "And we continue to work on this issue. We continue to work with our Israeli partners towards fulfilling all of the requirements."
It was unclear if Israel planned to change its approach to Palestinian-Americans.
"Participation in the VWP requires that Israel provide equal treatment and entry rights to all US citizens and nationals, at Israel’s ports of entries and checkpoints, just as the United States would grant such visa-free travel privileges to Israeli citizens," said the State Department's Patel.
"This includes Palestinian-Americans, including those on the Palestinian Authority population registry."
Passenger data bill
Before Netanyahu's announcement, his national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Twitter that parliament was due to ratify the last of four bills "that will advance us toward getting the US visa waiver for the citizens of Israel."
Netanyahu's announcement came shortly after the Knesset approved the second and third readings of a bill allowing for the collection and examination of passenger data from those entering or leaving Israel.
The bill requires airlines to provide personal information of those traveling in or out of Israel, as well as of those passing through the country.
"Today we brought important news to the citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said following the approval of the legislation in Knesset. As promised, the legislative requirements for obtaining a US visa exemption have been successfully completed."
"In the coming months, we will fulfill the additional requirements, and in September 2023, the State of Israel is expected to enter the list of visa-exempt countries for the USA."
Washington had previously called for greater access to databases in Israel about its travelers to the United States.
This is a developing story.