US bill pushes for visa-waiver status for Israel

Congressmen draft legislation that would allow Israelis to visit the United States for 90 days without a visa.

Israeli passport 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Israeli passport 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan, bicameral group of congressmen has drafted legislation that would allow Israelis to visit the United States for 90 days without a visa.
The bill, announced at a press conference Tuesday, would grant Israel the same status as 37 other US allies and help Israeli tourists and businessmen travel to America more easily.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), who is sponsoring the House version along with Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), said he believed the measure would pass during the two-year tenure of the current Congress, but could take many months.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is entering similar legislation in the US Senate.
Several years ago, the US passed a law allowing countries for which less than 10 percent of visa applications are turned down to participate in the visa waiver program.
Since 2007, many countries with higher refusal rates than Israel’s 6.9% have been approved by the State Department, including Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary, whose 2008 refusal rates were 9%, 8.3% and 7.8% respectively.
Sources familiar with the process said Israel was not previously approved over concerns about Israeli Arabs who might have links to Muslim terror groups, but that a screening mechanism is being worked out to cover those cases and clear the path for Israel to join the program.
Sherman said the legislation, filed late in the previous Congress and not approved by the end of the term, was boosted by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s presence on Capitol Hill this week to support the bill.
“[This] year we have Danny Ayalon to symbolize to all my colleagues, this isn’t like the 20th most important thing we can do for the US-Israel relationship,” Sherman said while standing next to Ayalon, who joined him at the press conference. “I won’t say it’s first on the list, but it’s among the top five.”
“I’m sure this will give such a push to the bilateral relationship,” Ayalon said, pointing particularly to science and technology collaboration.
Several other members of Congress, including Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Congress, also participated in the event to introduce the bill Tuesday.
“Israel has broad bipartisan support in the US House of Representatives, and that’s what it will take to get it passed,” Poe said.