Gov’t collapse could prevent Israel from joining US visa waiver program

Knesset dispersal will hold up Israeli efforts to participate in U.S. visa waiver program.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The dispersal of the Knesset may mean that Israel may lose out on its long-anticipated entry to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), as the interim government may not have the authority to pass necessary legislation to complete the process.

“There are some pieces of legislation that are in the Knesset that are in various stages of being introduced or being read, and it’ll be up to the caretaker government to determine whether those pieces of legislation are enough of national interest to continue to advance, or if they need to wait for the fall,” a senior U.S. embassy official told the Times of Israel.

“In the last six or seven months, Israel has made more progress on getting into the Visa Waiver than they have in previous umpteen years they’ve been talking about it,” the official said.

“The current government has taken a lot of strides forward answering the requirements of Homeland Security which really runs the Visa Waiver Program.”

The program allows citizens of designated countries to enter the U.S. for 90 days without a visa. Forty countries are already in the program and Israeli officials have been lobbying to be included for years. While the vast majority of American citizens can fly to Israel without obtaining a visa in advance and obtain one upon landing, Israelis must apply for a visa before traveling to the U.S.

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There are a number of laws that the Knesset would need to approve, such as granting the U.S. partial access to Israelis’ criminal records, in order for the VWP to be implemented.

Even if the next elections are decisive and the Knesset gains a majority that allows it to approve bills forging a pathway to join the program, the earliest that Israel could potentially roll out the VWP would be in mid-to-late 2023.

The issue of a visa waiver for Israeli citizens visiting the U.S. has been floated by both American and Israeli officials for decades, with little to no progress on the issue.

But recent events have brought the VWP to the forefront of public concern once again.

During the COVID pandemic, the American embassy in Israel was shuttered or working in a minimal capacity for the most of the last two years. This created a backlog of visa requests, leaving Israelis waiting more than a year for the face-to-face interviews necessary to obtain a visa.

Earlier in June, progressive Democrats including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), wrote an open letter urging the Biden administration not to include Israel in the VWP over what they call Israel’s “disparate treatment” of Palestinian Americans trying to enter Judea and Samaria.