US official: We seek ‘equal treatment’ for all US citizens with Visa Waiver Program

Israel does not currently meet all the requirements to be included in the US Visa Waiver Program, including reciprocal visa-free travel for all US citizens.

 Israeli entry visa (photo credit: FLICKR)
Israeli entry visa
(photo credit: FLICKR)

WASHINGTON – The US “continues to work with Israel towards fulfilling all Visa Waiver Program requirements, such as extending reciprocal privileges to all US citizens and nationals, including Palestinian Americans,” a State Department official said Tuesday.

Vedant Patel, the department’s principal deputy spokesman, said he was “not going to get into specific bilateral negotiations” between the US and Israel.

“We seek equal treatment and freedom to travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, but I don’t have any other updates to offer on that,” he said in a press briefing.

“We seek equal treatment and freedom to travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, but I don’t have any other updates to offer on that.”

Vedant Patel

Patel addressed a question about media reports indicating that the Department of Homeland Security had told a Democratic congressman Israel still was not in compliance with Visa Waiver Program requirements.

A letter on the matter was sent in September from the Department of Homeland Security to Rep. Don Beyer (D-Virginia), saying Israel currently does not meet all the requirements to be included in the program, including reciprocal visa-free travel for all US citizens, Haaretz reported.

Israel and the US Visa Waiver Program

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides both said earlier this year that Israel could enter the program early next year. But that is less likely in light of the election.

 US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, September 12, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, September 12, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Israel made significant progress in the past year. US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned that the administration intended to push for a visa waiver for Israel when then prime minister Naftali Bennett was about to visit Washington in September 2021.

Shaked took action, working with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to authorize Palestinian-Americans to use Ben-Gurion Airport en route to visiting the West Bank. The ministry also launched a campaign to lower the rate of visa refusal for Israelis to below 3%, which was one of the obstacles for the Jewish state joining the 40 other countries in the program. Most of the refusals were due to invalid passport photos or registration errors.

“Israel made more progress on getting into the Visa Waiver Program in the past six or seven months than they had in the previous years that they were trying.”

Senior US Embassy official

“Israel made more progress on getting into the Visa Waiver Program in the past six or seven months than they had in the previous years that they were trying,” a senior US Embassy official said in June.

“I give a lot of credit to the current government for putting their nose to the grindstone – providing data, doing site visits, working on the substantive issues,” the official said. “The fact that there is legislation on the agenda is a testimony to how hard the government has been working to resolve the outstanding issues.”

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.