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April 18, 2014 12:35 pm

Congresswoman Meng Pushes State Department on Israeli Visa Crisis; Kerry Admits 32% of Post-Army Israelis Were Refused B-2 Tourist Visa

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Queens, NY, Congresswoman Grace Meng. Photo: WikiCommons.

Queens, NY, Congresswoman Grace Meng. Photo: WikiCommons.

The U.S. State Department said that 32 percent of Israelis aged 21 to 27 were refused B-2 tourist visas in 2013, double the 16 per cent refused in 2009, according to Queens, New York, Congresswoman Grace Meng on Friday.

“The Department conceded that efforts to spot and prevent visa abuse is what led to the increase,” Meng, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

When she formally requested the visa denial data last month, Meng said she sought to confirm what she and other political leaders had learned – that Israelis who had served in the Israel Defense Forces were being refused travel visas to prevent them from working as an undocumented sales force selling ‘Dead Sea’ products in U.S. shopping malls.

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In her letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Meng wrote: “Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that the State Department presumes that such Israelis seek to illegally sell Dead Sea products in shopping malls, and that this is the reason they do not receive tourist visas. This is upsetting.”
“But the current, apparent presumption of nefarious intent on the part of young Israelis seems unfair, and I urge you to end it,” she said.

Meng also described the post-IDF travel as “a time-honored and venerable tradition in Israel.”

“I am concerned with the negative presumption regarding the beautiful tradition of young Israelis traveling after the army and before college,” Meng wrote. “If indeed there is a problem with young Israelis working illegally in American shopping malls, I would be happy to work with you to facilitate greater enforcement and public awareness of this problem in Israel.”

“This is the Israeli way of saying ‘thank you for your service.’ While Israeli society asks its young adults to fight in the world’s most dangerous places, it also affords them the opportunity to heal from the wounds of war and become citizens of the world.”

Among a list of steps that the State Department offered to take to improve the situation, the capstone was that it would create with the Department of Homeland Security a joint U.S.-Israeli working group to help make Israel eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.

Other measures include directing relevant offices in Washington and overseas to review visa policies as it impacts young Israelis, working with the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, expanding outreach and assistance to Israelis applying for visas and developing alternative programs to enable more young Israelis to participate in cultural exchanges to the U.S.

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