The United States is introducing a visa-free regime for Israeli citizens: it will begin on November 30
The United States is introducing a visa-free regime with Israel. The Biden administration has added Israel to the group of countries whose citizens are allowed to enter the United States without first obtaining a visa, reports AP.
Starting November 30, Israelis will be able to travel to the United States for business and tourism purposes for up to 90 days without a visa, simply by registering with Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
Important: American border guards at the airport have the right to refuse entry into the United States without giving reasons. This applies to citizens even of those countries that are subject to a visa-free regime.
It's a major achievement for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has frequently sparred with the Biden administration over the issue.
“Today we mark an important and joyful moment for all Israeli citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “This will save you, Israeli citizens, a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of hassle.”
Jewish Federations of North America actively supported this decision, sending a formal appeal to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in July of this year.
“The Jewish Federations of North America welcomes Israel's inclusion in the visa waiver program. This decision will help bring our countries closer together and develop cultural, business and educational ties between us,” said JFNA Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Elana Broitman. “Israel is a critical ally and trading partner of the United States, and we believe it is now more important than ever to strengthen the ties between our two countries.”
The program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security, which currently allows citizens of 40 mostly European and Asian countries to come to the U.S. for three months without a visa.
Secretary of State Alejandro Mayorkas said the agreement, after more than a decade of work, will "strengthen our two countries' cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement and our other shared priorities" and make allies safer.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a joint statement with Mayorkas, noted the expansion of "freedom of movement for US citizens, including those living in the Palestinian territories."
Countries wishing to participate in the visa program must meet three criteria.
Over the past two years, Israel has achieved two of these benchmarks: a low percentage of Israelis who applied for visas and were denied, and a low percentage of Israelis who overstayed their visas. Israel has struggled to meet the third requirement because reciprocity essentially means that all US citizens, including Palestinian Americans, should be treated equally when traveling to or through Israel.
In addition to the requirement of reciprocity, which is disputed by some Palestinian American groups, Israel's refusal would mean the country would once again have to meet U.S. standards for low rates of visa denials and visa overstays.
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Israel has not met these criteria for many years. But numbers for both measures have dropped significantly, partly due to coronavirus travel restrictions and an education campaign in Israel sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the Israeli government. The company aimed to discourage Israelis with questionable visa eligibility from applying.
Claiming national security concerns, Israel has long had separate entry requirements and screening procedures for Palestinian Americans.
Many complained that these procedures were burdensome and discriminatory. Americans with Palestinian residency papers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were largely barred from using Israel's international airport. Instead, like other Palestinians, they were forced to travel through either Jordan or Egypt to reach their destination.
US officials stressed that Israel's status in the program will be constantly monitored. And if it is found not to meet the requirements, the special visa-free status may be revoked.
But even before this announcement became official, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it had filed a federal lawsuit to keep Israel out of the program. The group argues that despite America's claims, Palestinian Americans still faced discrimination when traveling to Israel.
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