Israel Hopes to Join US Visa Waiver Program by 2023
Following a meeting with US Secretary of Homeland Security, on November 18, 2021, Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has said she is optimistic that the country will be added to the USA’s visa waiver exemption program (VWP) by 2023.
Under the VWP, foreign nationals of certain countries are allowed to visit the US without a visa. If the country is accepted onto the program, Israelis could be able to visit the United States without a visa from 2023.
Under current US rules, Israeli nationals have to apply for a visa before they can travel to the US, even if the trip is a short-term visit. The application process can take several months, with the applicant having to submit a petition, attend a visa interview and wait for their stamped passport to be returned. The pandemic has also severley impacted US immigration application processing, resulting in longer wait times and lower availability of interview slots.
By joining the VWP, Israeli nationals would not in most cases need a visa to visit the US, but instead would only need to pass an online pre-screening test to be granted ESTA authorization.
In August 2021, President Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and said he had instructed his staff to work on adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program.
According to Former Israeli ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan, there are two key obstacles to overcome before the country will be added to the program. The first is that visa refusal rates for Israeli nationals remain too high at 4.5%; these have to be brought down to 3% by October 2022.
The second is granting the US access to Israeli criminal records in order to adjudicate visa requests from citizens with past convictions, which will require Knesset legislation.
If accepted, Israel would become the 40th country to join the VWP.
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This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.