The United States of America has initiated a visa waiver program, which now permits Israelis who intend to stay in the United States for 90 days or less to enter without the necessity of obtaining a visa. This move is aimed at fostering easier travel for Israeli citizens while maintaining relations between the two nations.
On 19th October 2023, Thursday, The Department of Homeland Security made an announcement, opening the door for eligible Israeli citizens and nationals to apply for a visa-free travel program to the United States. This program allows for short-term stays of up to 90 days in the U.S.
The visa waiver program, Originally planned to start for Israelis on November 30, mandates that eligible citizens and nationals must possess biometrically enabled passports, as specified by the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, it is important to note that residents of the West Bank and Gaza are not covered by this program.
An essential point to be mindful of is that Israelis who exceed their authorized stay length while in the U.S. under the waiver program may face deportation and become ineligible for future participation in the program.
Last month, Senate Democrats, among them Senator Elizabeth Warren, addressed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing their reservations about Israel’s participation in the visa waiver program. The Democrats contended that Israel was not in “full compliance with the program’s regulations”, and they accused this long-standing U.S. ally of implementing a system that, in their view, unfairly differentiates between various groups of U.S. citizens. This criticism was directed at the situation of Palestinian-Americans, who will not be able to apply for travel permits produced by Israel until May 2024.
To these implications, the Biden administration replied and said Israel “made updates to its entry policies to meet the VWP requirement to extend reciprocal privileges to all US citizens without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity”.
“This important achievement will enhance freedom of movement for U.S. citizens, including those living in the Palestinian Territories or traveling to and from them,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Albeit, the program is now in motion, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “The designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries”
Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the US, also had positive remarks as he labeled this development a “significant milestone” in the relationship between the two countries. In a Social media post, he said “Our people-to-people ties, which are the backbone of our special relationship, will only grow stronger,”
The application process can take up to three days for processing and is subject to assessment by an automated system that assists in determining eligibility and assessing potential security concerns.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is a complex yet fair automated tool designed to assess the suitability of individuals traveling to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. Its primary function is to evaluate whether a traveler’s journey raises any potential law enforcement or security concerns. Following the submission of an ESTA application, travelers receive notification regarding their eligibility for travel under the Visa Waiver Program to the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) relies on the information provided in these applications to thoroughly screen travelers before granting authorization for entry into the United States. As part of this detailed screening process, any information identifying individuals suspected of violating the law or those considered persons of interest is shared with the relevant law enforcement, national security, and counterterrorism agencies.
Previously, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed suit seeking to block Israel’s entry to the program. A U.S. judge in Detroit denied an emergency motion, saying the Homeland Security Department had not received proper notice of the lawsuit.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry urged the United States to guarantee equal treatment for Palestinians.
“At a time when the American administration has repeatedly said that its goal is to provide the same opportunities for freedom, equality, prosperity, and security for both Palestinians and Israelis, we expect this administration to work to implement what it says,” the ministry said in a statement.