Will Israel join the Visa Waiver Program?

Wouldn’t it be nice to enter the US visa Free. I just left Israel a few days ago, most Israelis complain about the harsh requirement to get a simple visa to enter the US. Now the debate is on if Israel should join the Visa Waiver Program.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program of the United States Government which allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The program applies to the 50 U.S. states as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, with limited application to other U.S. territories. Most of the countries selected by the U.S. government to be in the program are high-income economies with a very high Human Development Index and are regarded as developed countries.

Israel’s entry into the 37-nation U.S. Visa Waiver Program is the most controversial element in a pair of broader U.S.-Israel bills dealing with everything from improving cybersecurity to enhancing economic cooperation. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is hoping to get the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s approval before Congress’ August recess. A version by Sen. Barbara Boxer is picking up support in the Senate.

Some critics are sensitive about expressing their reservations in public, wishing to avoid getting in a public argument with a close ally, with the bills’ supporters or with the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which is pushing for the legislation’s passage.

Boxer told The Associated Press the law would benefit US citizens by specifically requiring the secretaries of state and homeland security to certify that Israel is doing all it can to facilitate travel for Americans before it can enter the visa waiver program.

But critics believe they see a problematic loophole.

Last month, 15 Democratic members of Congress and one Republican wrote a letter to Israel’s ambassador in Washington expressing concern that Israeli border officials were “disproportionately singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans.”
142 Americans in all were denied entry to Israel last year, while about 626,000 were allowed in. That amounts to a refusal rate of 0.023 percent, or about 1 in every 4,400 people. The American refusal rate for Israelis seeking US visas was 5.4 percent.

The Visa Waiver is a convenient way to enter the US and stay for 90 days. But unlike a regular tourist visa B, one can not change or extend status. We hope that Israel will join the visa Waiver family. We will keep our readers posted.