Israel clears first hurdle towards making travel to US easier for Israelis

Ambassador Thomas Nides says Israel has cleared the first hurdle towards entering the US Visa Waiver Program – but adds Israel must still ease travel for Palestinian Americans.

By World Israel News Staff

Israel has cleared the first major hurdle in entering a program that would make it much easier for Israeli passport holders to travel to the United States, the U.S. embassy in Israel announced Monday.

In a statement, the embassy said that for the first time, Israel has passed the so-called “NIV” requirement, referring to the rejection rate of non-immigrant visa requests.

Over the past year, less than three percent of NIV requests filed by Israelis to the U.S. mission in Israel were rejected, making Israel eligible for the Visa Waiver Program – an arrangement ensuring automatic visas for travelers between two countries.

Under the Visa Waiver Program, foreign nationals are able to travel to the U.S. without first securing a tourist visa, as they are provided one upon their arrival on American soil. The program also ensures a reciprocal travel guarantee for American citizens flying abroad, granting them automatic tourist visas for any country which is a member of the waiver program.

Clearing the 3% NIV rejection threshold is only the first step towards acceptance into the waiver program, however, the embassy emphasized.

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“Entry into the Visa Waiver Program is a complex and laborious process. Being below the 3% non-immigrant visa refusal rate is just the one of many steps that Israel must undertake to join the program.”

“The government of Israel must meet all requirements to enter the program, and a lot of work needs to be done in a very short amount of time.”

Israel still has to comply with three key requirements for the program, and must do so by September 2023 in order to qualify with its current NIV rejection rate level.

First, the Knesset must pass legislation enabling the establishment of a traveler database, to be shared with the U.S. for security purposes.

Second, the Israeli government will have to work with American authorities to finalize the data-sharing and security aspects of the program.

Finally, Israel will have to ensure compliance with the reciprocity requirement of the program, which, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides noted, would mean easing travel restrictions on Palestinian Americans.

“What do I mean by reciprocity? It means Israelis coming to the U.S. as tourists can enter the U.S. without visas,” he said.

“It also means that any Americans, regardless of their national origin, religion, ethnicity will be able to travel to Israel. For example, Arab Americans – including Palestinian Americans – will be able to get on a plane in New York or Detroit and fly directly to Ben Gurion Airport. You can then go and visit your aunt in Bethlehem.”