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Biden Admin Designates Israel Into Visa Waiver Program

Israeli citizens and nationals will be allowed to apply for travel in the United States for tourism and business purposes for 90 days without a visa by no later than November 30. American citizens, in turn, will also have the opportunity to apply to travel to Israel without a visa.
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September 28, 2023
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The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that Israel will be admitted into the United States’ Visa Waiver Program.

According to a joint statement from the Departments of State and Homeland Security, Israeli citizens and nationals will be allowed to apply for travel in the United States for tourism and business purposes for 90 days without a visa by no later than November 30. American citizens, in turn, will also have the opportunity to apply to travel to Israel without a visa.

As part of the agreement, Israel updated its policies to allow for “all U.S. citizens without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity” and Homeland Security “monitored Israel’s compliance with these requirements and engaged with Palestinian-Americans both living in the West Bank and living in the United States, who now have the ability to enter Israel visa free, and fly in and out of Ben Gurion airport, reducing barriers to travel for these Americans,” per the joint statement.

Israel will be the 41st such country admitted into the program.

“Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program represents a critical step forward in our strategic partnership with Israel that will further strengthen long-standing people-to-people engagement, economic cooperation, and security coordination between our two countries,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement. “This important achievement will enhance freedom of movement for U.S. citizens, including those living in the Palestinian Territories or traveling to and from them.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas similarly said in a statement, “The designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries. This designation, which represents over a decade of work and coordination between the United States and Israel, will enhance our two nations’ collaboration on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and our other common priorities. Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, and the stringent requirements it entails, will make both of our nations more secure.”

Some Jewish groups praised the decision to admit Israel into the program.

“Israel’s admittance to the Visa Waiver Program will allow for even stronger ties to grow between the U.S. and Israel and is a key step in advancing American and shared U.S.-Israeli interests,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO Ted Deutch said in a statement. “Our countries, and our people, are already intertwined and this will allow individual Israelis and Americans to more easily experience this relationship themselves. This is an important expansion of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and will directly benefit Israeli citizens and Israeli-American and Palestinian-American families.”

AIPAC posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Israel’s admittance into the program is “a historic achievement that will further strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance.” “Thank you to Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides for your dedication and tireless commitment to reaching this important milestone,” they wrote.

Democratic Majority for Israel President and CEO Mark Mellman also said in a statement, “We applaud the Biden administration for working closely with Israel to ensure it complied with the requirements of the U.S. Waiver Program, enabling Israel to become the first country in the Middle East to join the coveted program. Israel’s compliance was carefully tested during a pilot period. Israel’s acceptance will benefit both countries, making it easier for Israelis to travel to the United States and for U.S. citizens to travel to Israel. This welcome announcement underscores the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to continue expanding and deepening the bonds between the U.S. and Israel.”

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, said in a statement, “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. 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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