Letter Urges Biden Administration To Include Israel In Visa Waiver

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of House members sent a letter Monday to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas urging them to add Israel to the Visa Waiver Program. Representatives Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1), Kathleen Rice (D, NY-4), Michelle Fischbach (R, MN-7), Grace Meng (D, NY-6), Brian Mast (R, FL-18) and Elaine Luria (D, VA-2) spearheaded the letter, with 52 additional members joining it.

“We are writing to you in support of Israel’s participation in the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens and nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa, ”the lawmakers wrote.

“We are encouraged by Secretary Mayorkas’ comments last month confirming that Israel is in the ‘pipeline’ to be added to the program,” they noted. “These comments follow a bilateral meeting in August between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, where Israel’s participation in the VWP was discussed.”

According to lawmakers, Israeli travelers account for $ 1.2 billion in annual expenses, with an average of $ 4,000 in personal expenses per trip.

“Israel’s participation in this program would grow the US economy, strengthen national security at each of our borders, and increase opportunities for people-to-people exchange, reinforcing our already unique bilateral relationship,” the letter reads. .

US Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas holds a press conference in Brownsville, Texas (credit: GO NAKAMURA / REUTERS)

“We know that you share the goal of ensuring that the benefits that the Visa Waiver Program promises to American tourism, to our country’s national security and to the relationship between the United States and Israel are realized,” they continued. “We therefore urge you to quickly add Israel to the Visa Waiver Program and provide an update to Congress on the status of the current negotiations.”

Last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked arrived in Washington to meet with Mayorkas and discuss the visa waiver program. After the meeting, he estimated that the process to grant a visa waiver for Israeli travelers to the US by including Israel in the US Visa Waiver Program will not end before 2023.

“I had an excellent meeting with Secretary Mayorkas,” he told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting. “There is a mutual desire for this to succeed.”

The two decided to establish government teams to address the remaining challenges. The US team will visit Israel in January, and Shaked and Mayorkas will follow up once a month.

“We agreed that a team of US officials will arrive in Israel in January to discuss additional details that need to be resolved,” Shaked continued. “We have two main tasks: the first is to establish a system that allows US immigration officials to verify whether a certain person seeking to enter has a criminal record; The United States could ask about 1,000 Israelis a year. It would require us to make some adjustments, such as a legislative change to allow the US access to our criminal record system. “

The second task, he said, is to reduce Israel’s rejection rates to 3% by September 2022. “There are several things that can be done to reach this threshold,” Shaked noted. “For example, we asked the Mayorkas team that if a person opens a visa application but does not send it, it will not count as a rejection. Today, those cases count as if a person who did not complete the form was rejected, ”he explained.

“Another cause of rejection is the high volume of applicants in their twenties. [Former ambassador to Washington] Gilad Erdan raised this issue in his meetings at DHS and explained that in Israel, many people in their 20s go on a long journey after military service. “


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