Sherman Responds on Visa Waiver for Israel Act

Mr. Herman’s article, “Sherman’s U.S. Visa Waiver for Israel Endangered by High Rejection Rate of Israeli Non-Immigrants” on February 14, 2013, missed an important point: some countries have been admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program with higher visa rejection rates than Israel.

My bill, H.R. 300, the Visa Waiver for Israel Act, would exempt the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement for Israel to join the Visa Waiver Program.  The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from 37 countries to enter the U.S. as temporary visitors for 90 days without first obtaining a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad.   The bill has now been introduced in the Senate by Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Orrin Hatch as US Senate Bill S.266.

The refusal rate requirement basically states that if more than 3% of the nation’s visitor visa applications are rejected by the U.S., the country cannot join the program.  Israel’s current refusal rate is 5.4%, down from 6.9% the year before.

However, there are countries in the Visa Waiver Program that also did not meet the 3% nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement when they joined and in fact some had higher rates than Israel – so the exemption the Visa Waiver for Israel Act provides for Israel is justifiable and fair.

In particular, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania had even higher nonimmigrant refusal rates than Israel when they joined the Visa Waiver Program.

The 110th Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act (P.L. 110-53), which was signed into law in August 2007.  Section 711 created a temporary waiver authority for the nonimmigrant refusal rate (for countries under 10%).

Israel could have been one of the countries admitted with a waiver of the refusal rate, but this never happened.  Instead, several other countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea – entered the program through the 2008 waiver of the nonimmigrant refusal rate.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in September 2008, critical of the selection process, said State Department “officials told [GAO officials] that they lacked a clear rationale to explain” the selection process, which also involved the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and that it was “difficult to explain to countries with fiscal year 2007 refusal rates below 10 percent that have signaled interest in joining the program (such as Croatia, Israel, and Taiwan) why DHS is not negotiating with them.”  Thus, Israel could have been added to the Visa Waiver Program already, but an opportunity was missed in 2008.

The Visa Waiver for Israel Act provides the same treatment for Israel as several other countries that entered the program in 2008 and I’m encouraged that so many of my colleagues in the House, and now the Senate, have joined me in cosponsoring the bill.

Brad Sherman
Member of Congress


February 20, 2013