Report: Visa Waiver Still a Long Way Off

YERUSHALAYIM -

Reports that an agreement to allow Israelis entry into the U.S. without a visa was close to being finalized turned out to be premature, Globes reported on Wednesday.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in a social media post earlier in the week that talks were “at an advanced stage. We have found the balance between protecting the privacy of Israeli citizens and U.S. requirements,” she added.

However, inquiries made by Globes indicate that “the day when Israelis can enter the U.S. freely without a visa may still be some way off.”

A State Department spokesperson was quoted as saying: “The visa waiver program poses very strict requirements, including the demand that the rate of visa refusals among people in the country seeking to join the program be less than 3 percent of the number of visa applicants. Other requirements obligate the country seeking to implement certain arrangements for information exchanges.

“Israel does not meet all the requirements at this stage, but we are working with the Israeli government on measures that Israel can take with the potential for enabling Israel to join the program. Meanwhile, we are encouraging Israeli citizens to visit the website of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in order to learn about the procedures for requesting a visa.”

A report on Channel Two had said that the two sides were close to a deal that would allow Israel to share fingerprints of prospective tourists with American authorities, one of the conditions the U.S. had set for a suspension of the visa requirement.

In fact, bilateral talks on the visa issue, begun in 2005, are quite complex, involving several agencies of both governments.

A U.S. government source said that a visa waiver “requires complying with several standards, including the signing of bilateral agreements. At the instruction of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, regular contacts are taking place between parties in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, Israel Police, and the Population and Immigration Authority and the relevant parties on the U.S. side.

“In view of the importance of the matter, Shaked, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hovotely, and the legal advisor of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit are personally involved in the contacts taking place. Thanks to the work carried out in recent years, Israel has made significant progress towards meeting the U.S. parameters, but a great deal of work is left to be done before the processes are completed.”

An important but unresolved issue concerns treatment of U.S. citizens of Arab origin at Israel’s entry ports. “In general, the U.S. administration requires that every U.S. citizen receive the same treatment upon arrival in foreign countries, and benefit from unrestricted freedom of movement, regardless of their ethnic affiliation and country of origin,” the official said.

“Specifically, the administration in Washington continues to be concerned about the unequal treatments given to U.S. Muslims at entry points and checkpoints [in Yehudah and Shomron].”

Shaked is reportedly planning to visit Washington in two weeks, at which time she hopes to sign an “agreement in principle” for Israel’s accession to the visa waiver program. However, there was no indication from the State Department about the signing or any timetable for implementation of a visa waiver.