Israeli nationals looking to apply for a US travel visa are being told that the next available appointments for an interview by US consular services is August 2020. Amid the pandemic, the backlog in consular services means that US visas for tourists have fallen down the priority list behind those applying for work or study visas or those traveling for medical reasons.
Citizens of countries that do not have a visa waiver agreement with the US, which includes Israel, have to apply for a US visa in person at an American embassy or consulate. However, amid the shutdown of many consular services due to the coronavirus pandemic, services only partially resumed in Israel in March 2021.
In the grip of a huge backlog, US consular services are prioritizing American citizens, resulting in long delays for non-US nationals. It’s understood that thousands of Israelis who have contacted the US Embassy to enquire about applying for a US visit visa were told that they would have to wait up to 18 months for an appointment.
Potential vacant spots
Alternatively, they were told to continue checking online for a potential vacant spot at an earlier date.
The delays have caused many Israeli nationals to scrap their travel plans for the summer as applications for visit visas are a low priority. With Israel not part of the US visa waiver scheme, despite close ties with America and repeated requests to join by the Israeli government, citizens of the Middle East country face travel frustration for the foreseeable future.
While Israel has seen coronavirus case numbers plummet to almost zero, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv still isn’t operating at full capacity. Most of the Embassy’s employees returned home at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and many haven’t returned to their posts.
Renewing a US visit visa
However, tourists looking to renew their US visit visa have been told that they can do so by mail, without the need to schedule an appointment at the US Embassy.
Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Gilad Erdan, said he had raised the backlog issue with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Erdan also raised the issue of Israel’s continued absence from the US visa waiver scheme.
Israel’s continued efforts to join the visa waiver program have been repeatedly knocked back over the years. Erdan said that he is trying to enlist the help of the US State Department to ‘help accelerate the process for Israelis looking to travel’.
Some Israeli companies have reportedly offered to expedite the process, at a cost of 500 shekels. However, those paying the fee for the promise of securing a US visa quickly found that those they had paid money to were simply checking the online system for earlier appointments with consular services.
Americans given priority
The US Embassy in Jerusalem has confirmed that US citizens are being prioritized by consular services, resulting in further delays for visa requests.
The Embassy did recommend that Israelis who have already obtained a US visa in the past four years should apply online to renew it.
An official Embassy statement said: “In addition to US citizens, preference is also being given to Israelis who are studying in the US or need to travel there for work. As such, all requests for tourism purposes are on hold until those given priority have been processed.”
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