Israel Officially Included in U.S. Visa Waiver Program, U.S. Announces

An American and an Israeli passport. (Hadar Youavian/FLASH90)

The United States on Wednesday extended its congratulations to Israel as it joins the Visa Waiver Program, becoming the 41st country to do so. This milestone is seen as a testament to the strong bonds shared between the two nations.

Stephanie Hallett, Charge d’Affairs at the US Embassy in Yerushalayim, expressed her delight, saying, “Mazal Tov!” She underscored the significance of the move, emphasizing the robust bilateral security, economic, and cultural relationship between the United States and Israel.

However, Hallett cautioned Israeli citizens eager for this development that the program’s implementation is set for Nov. 30 of this year and involves a bureaucratic procedure for entry into the United States.

She clarified that Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program doesn’t mean that Israeli citizens can simply head to Ben-Gurion Airport for immediate travel to the United States. Rather, there is a 72-hour electronic process that Israelis must complete before boarding US-bound flights.

Hallett explained, “Israelis will need to submit an application through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, before traveling to the United States.” ESTA is an automated online system designed to determine the eligibility of visitors traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.

Importantly, this program isn’t open to all Israelis and is subject to certain limitations. It does not eliminate the need for visas for all types of travel.

For those who choose to use this procedure, Hallett specified that they must “submit an application through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling to the U.S.” This application typically receives a response within 72 hours and grants a two-year visa for multiple trips, each lasting up to 90 days.

However, this option is only available to Israelis with valid 10-year biometric passports.

For Israelis without such passports, the existing visa application process, involving an in-person visit to the embassies in Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv, still applies.

Hallett advised Israelis with existing “visa interview for short-term travel to the United States” appointments not to cancel them but to attend as scheduled. Fees already paid in the visa application process cannot be refunded, and the embassy does not accept requests for refunds.

It’s crucial to note that the two-year visa option is a limited travel document and does not equate to a B1/B2 tourist visa, which is valid for 10 years and allows for a six-month stay, twice the duration of visas granted under the waiver program.

“Today we are marking an important and happy moment for all citizens of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said of the announcement. “Israel has been designated into the US Visa Waiver Program, at long last, after many years.

“This will save considerable time, bother and money for all Israeli citizens.

Whoever wants to visit the US will no longer need to wait months just to receive an appointment. We have been working on this for years, almost a decade, especially over the past year during which we passed extensive Knesset legislation that made possible the legal basis for this action. Only around 40 countries have visa exemptions and now Israel has joined the list.

Netanyahu thanks U.S. President Joe Biden for granting Israel entry into the program; his remarks can be seen below:

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, who had helped organized the program for Israel, hailed the announcement.

“As Israel joins the list of countries whose citizens enjoy a visa exemption when entering the United States, I am happy and proud that this initiative, which I led as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, has been a historic success,” Erdan said in a statement. “At the beginning of 2021, I established a joint team with Secretary of Homeland Security [Alejandro] Mayorkas. We identified and mapped the obstacles preventing Israel from being admitted to the program and I pushed for the necessary changes.”

Erdan’s full remarks can be seen below:

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, expressed his gratitude with the acceptance of Israel into the visa waiver program. “We thank the American and Israeli delegations for the hundreds of hours of dedication and hard work they put into reaching this milestone, as many concerns on both sides – including freedom of entry, reciprocity and security — needed to be ironed out,” noted . “The U.S.-Israel relationship is grounded in shared values and mutual interests and Israel’s acceptance into VWP gives concrete expression to the strong friendship and unbreakable bond between the two allies.”

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