This afternoon, Jewish Federations of North America issued a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas urging for the inclusion of Israel in the Visa Waiver Program, before Israel’s narrow window to enter the program this year closes on September 30th. The letter was signed by 121 Jewish Federations, Jewish Community Relations Councils, and network communities.
“As a critical ally and strong trade partner of the United States, Israel’s entry into the program will advance cultural, business, and educational ties between our two countries,” the letter states. The letter also states that Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program “will be important for the almost half a million Israelis traveling annually to the United States.”
We recognize that there are still some outstanding issues that must be addressed before Israel’s participation in the program can be finalized,” continues the letter. “We encourage all sides to continue their efforts to take the steps necessary to complete Israel’s required actions before the deadline in September 2023.”
The Visa Waiver Program currently permits citizens of forty participating countries to travel to the United States for short stays of up to ninety days without a visa, while also offering U.S. citizens visa-free treatment when visiting these participating countries. This reciprocal arrangement has proven instrumental in strengthening international relations between the U.S. and its participating partners.
Efforts to include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program have been ongoing for years, with recent progress driven by both Congress and the Biden Administration. The decision to add a country to the program is based on recommendations by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, with eligibility criteria including reciprocal privileges for American citizens and a visa refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year.
Last month, in a bipartisan display of support, a group of ten Members of Congress wrote to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas expressing their support for Israel's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program. The signatories encouraged continued efforts to finalize the process before the September 2023 deadline. The timing, therefore, is now critical for Jewish Federations to send a clear signal of support to the Administration.
To overcome significant hurdles for acceptance, Israel has recently passed prerequisite laws, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, and other officials have shown strong support for Israel’s inclusion in the program. As part of the September 30th deadline, and to overcome application hurdles, Israel is now piloting a new program to address concerns related to reciprocity.