Published: Oct 23, 2022, Updated: Feb 02, 2023
Israel has long sought entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which would allow its citizens to travel to the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa by using an ESTA. Israel was thought to be in compliance to join the VWP. However, last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said Israel has failed to come into compliance with a few of the necessary requirements.
One of the key requirements for entry into the Visa Waiver Program is reciprocity between the United States and a VWP country. This would ensure that all U.S. citizens are treated equally at Israeli points of entry. The U.S. State Department has claimed that U.S. citizens traveling to Israel have reported being unfairly denied entry on the basis of their race, religion or ethnicity.
There is currently no system in place to be able to track these rejections at the Israeli border. However, one way the United States government has offered to monitor these instances, is to establish a hotline or reporting mechanism for U.S. citizens claiming discrimination at Israeli ports of entry. Thus, if Israel is able to reduce such instances, then it's reconsideration request may be met with wider support in the U.S. government.
Historically, Israeli U.S. visa applicants have been denied approvals at a rate above 3%, which makes the country ineligible to join the VWP. However, Israeli U.S. visa applicants were rejected less than 3% of the time during 2020 and 2021, which supporters of entry claim gives ground for admission. The U.S. government acknowledged the low refusal rate, yet attributed it to the lack of visa submissions due to COVID-19.
Israel claims that historically the high percentage of the refused U.S. visa applications are submitted by young Israeli’s that have recently been discharged from the army and have not yet established themselves financially. Not having the financial means to support ones stay while in the U.S. can have adverse impacts on a B2 Tourist or B1 Business visa application.
Yet, Israel in order to comply with VWP requirements Israeli visa applicants must continuously achieve rejection rates below 3% in the coming years.
Given the current state of affairs, it is evident that Israel will not yet be admitted into the Visa Waiver Program. The two outstanding issues to comply for admission are that the country needs to show that reciprocity is being observed at the Israeli border and that visa refusals of Israeli U.S. visa applicants can remain under 3% for a few successive years.