U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Tuesday the United States is considering adding four countries to its visa waiver program that allows citizens to come to America without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
“We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania,” Mayorkas said on Tuesday at a travel industry event. “We’re very, very focused on the program,” he added, saying it provides significant economic and security benefits.
In September, the United States added Croatia to the visa waiver program. U.S. Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow said on Tuesday that adding Croatia is a $100 million boost to the U.S. economy. “Each time you add one of these countries, the travel just booms,” Dow said.
The White House said in August after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Biden emphasized “his administration would strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both U.S. citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the visa waiver program.”
Mayorkas also met with Israel‘s U.S. ambassador in August and discussed the waiver issue.
In February, Mayorkas spoke with the European Commission’s Commissioner for Home Affairs and both “expressed their continued interest in maintaining the U.S.-EU Passenger Name Record Agreement and working with Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania to meet the qualifications for the visa waiver program.”
To participate in the program, a country must meet requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security and border management.
There are currently 40 countries in the program.
“These requirements include having a rate of nonimmigrant visa refusals below 3%, issuing secure travel documents, and working closely with U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism authorities,” DHS said last month.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan welcomed the move, saying, “We’re continuing to work at full power so that Israeli citizens can enter the United States freely without the need for a visa, as is fitting for our closest ally.
“The clear statement from Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas … is a very significant advancement toward achieving that goal.”
Currently, Israelis seeking to travel to the U.S., even briefly, must go through a lengthy visa application process.