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January 30, 2023 5:19 pm

Israelis to Qualify for Visa-Free Travel to US This Year, Israeli FM Says

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US President Joe Biden departs for his first trip as president to the Middle East where he will visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., July 12, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Israel’s foreign minister announced on Monday that citizens will soon be able to travel to the United States without having to first apply for a visa, though American diplomats cautioned that more steps need to be taken before Israel can join its visa waiver program.

“Happy news — the visa to the USA is being cancelled!” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen shared in a Hebrew social media post.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday received US data confirming that less than three percent of non-immigrant visa applications by Israelis were refused in 2022, he added. Falling below the three percent refusal threshold is one of the requirements to joining the US Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of participating countries to enter the US for 90 days or less without requiring a visa.

“That means that Israel can join the [visa] exemption program, and within months Israeli citizens will be able to visit the United States without the need for a visa,” wrote Cohen, before thanking US President Joe Biden for his “leadership and support throughout.”

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Yet American diplomats warned that there is more work to be done, with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides saying in a Monday video message, “we’re not there yet.”

While Israel falling under the visa refusal threshold is “one huge step,” he said, it “is just the first step for Israel to complete the same process that 40 other countries around the world have done to get into the visa waiver program.”

In a Monday statement, the US Embassy in Israel pointed out that “a lot of work needs to be done in a very short amount of time.”

Israeli lawmakers will need to pass relevant legislation, while “many technical requirements” linked to data sharing and screening of travelers need to be fulfilled, among them the development, implementation, and testing of information systems, it added.

The window for Israel to complete these actions and pass the required laws closes in September 2023,” the embassy noted.

The statement also highlighted that reciprocity of travel remains another cornerstone of the Visa Waiver Program. “We seek equal treatment and freedom of travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity, including Palestinian Americans, seeking to enter or transit through Israel,” it read.

“For example,” expanded Nides, “Arab Americans, including Palestinian-Americans, will be able to get on a plane in New York or Detroit and fly directly to Ben Gurion Airport. You can then go visit your aunt in Bethlehem.”

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