September 27, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Approves Israel’s Entry to Visa Waiver Program

September 27, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Approves Israel’s Entry to Visa Waiver Program

Latest Developments

The Biden administration announced on September 27 that it would add Israel to America’s Visa Waiver Program, making it the 41st country on the list. Starting on November 30, Washington will allow Israeli citizens and nationals to travel to the United States for a maximum of 90 days for tourism or business purposes without applying for a travel visa.

“This designation, which represents over a decade of work and coordination between the United States and Israel, will enhance our two nations’ collaboration on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and our other common priorities,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, and the stringent requirements it entails, will make both of our nations more secure.”

Expert Analysis

“Israel’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program is long overdue. Making it easier for citizens of the Start-Up Nation to visit the United States will be a win for the U.S. economy.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“In a year when more Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists than any year since the Second Intifada, Israel still managed to meet U.S. requirements by allowing Palestinian Americans to use Ben Gurion International Airport. This is a significant achievement and will ease travel for thousands of Palestinian Americans.” Enia Krivine, Senior Director of FDD’s Israel Program and National Security Network

Years of Effort

The United States requires nations that are part of the Visa Waiver Program to meet stringent requirements, which include a less than three percent nonimmigrant visa application refusal rate, security coordination with U.S. authorities, secure travel documents, and reciprocity for all U.S. citizens without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity. Israel has struggled to meet the visa refusal rate target until this year; Palestinian Americans and other Muslim American travelers have accused Israel’s screening process of discrimination. On September 8, 15 Democratic senators urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to stop Israel’s entry into the program. On September 26, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee filed a lawsuit in Michigan to stop Israel’s entry.

Before the United States and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding on July 19 to outline steps Israel must take to meet Visa Waiver Program requirements, Israel largely barred Palestinian Americans traveling to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from flying into Ben Gurion International Airport. Instead, they needed to fly to Jordan and enter the territories from there. After agreeing to the memorandum, Israel eased travel restrictions, allowing U.S. citizens who are on the Palestinian Authority’s population registry to travel to the West Bank and Gaza Strip via Ben Gurion. Nevertheless, Israel reserved the right to refuse entry to anyone deemed a security concern. The Department of Homeland Security noted that it will continue to monitor adherence to these requirements and can suspend a country’s membership if it fails to comply.

Israel’s Security Concerns

Palestinian Americans living in the West Bank and Gaza are eligible to visit Israel without a visa. Yet there are justified concerns that Palestinian terrorist organizations may exploit Palestinian Americans to carry out attacks. In 2021, an Israeli airstrike killed Jamal al-Zebda, an American national living in Gaza and working with Hamas on rocket development. Jamal’s father, who also died in the strike, lived in the United States and worked as an engineer before returning to the Gaza Strip, where he took up a senior role with Hamas’ rocket development program.

American Military Aid to Israel Serves Both Countries Well,” by Richard Goldberg

Hamas fighter with American citizenship killed in recent Gaza conflict,” by Joe Truzman