Israel’s envoy to the US, Gilad Erdan, has said that he ‘expects there to be progress’ on a US visa waiver deal for the Jewish state after meeting with US Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS), Alejandro Mayorkas. In a post on Facebook, Erdan said: “It’s time for the citizens of Israel to feel our close relationship with the US when they want to visit.”
“I believe that soon we will see significant progress towards a solution to the matter and I will continue to do everything so that it happens,” Erdan added. Israeli citizens looking to travel to the US still require a visa for entry into America.
Under the Trump administration, Israeli nationals were hit by reduced US visa validity periods for L1 visas, E1 and E2 visas. Meanwhile, in June 2021, Workpermit.com reported that the US visa backlog for Israeli nationals had stretched to August 2022.
US visa overstayers
According to Erdan, Israeli nationals are usually granted visas to visit the US, but some – mainly young adults – are refused amid concerns that they would remain in America beyond the validity of their visa. The Israeli envoy said that this is one of the main reasons why the Jewish state has not yet been accepted into the US visa waiver program.
The US visa waiver program requires a country looking to be accepted into the scheme to have a visa refusal rate that’s less than three percent, which is something Israel has struggled to achieve. In the past, officials have urged Congress to exempt Israel from the less than three percent rule.
Erdan said: “Most of those who are refused visas are Israelis who have just completed their national service in the IDF and are looking for temporary jobs and vacations, not permanent relocations.”
When Erdan met with the US DHS Secretary, Mayorkas said that he was ‘surprised’ by the rejection rates.
Erdan pointed out that following years of service in the armed forces, Israelis started their academic studies and career building at a ‘later age than in most countries around the world’.
“Young Israelis fresh from the army service want to open their minds and travel the world a bit, but they really aren’t looking to settle down in any other country in the world. This lack of understanding brought many refusals of US visa requests and meant Israel was not included in the US visa waiver scheme,” Erdan said.
Back in March, Erdan - who is also Israel’s envoy to the United Nations (UN) - said that he had ‘entered talks’ with Mayorkas and that the US DHS Secretary had agreed to set up a joint team to investigate the matter.
Jerusalem and pro-Israel groups have pushed hard for entry into the US visa waiver program, which allows 90-day visits to America, visa-free, for business and tourism purposes.
It’s understood that one of the key blockers to the US visa waiver program for Israel has been US requirements for access to Israeli fingerprint records. Under current Biometric Database Laws, there is a sweeping prohibition in Israel that prevents such data sharing with foreign governments unless it’s for a specific criminal investigation.
Croatia to be accepted
Recently, Croatia was formally invited to join the US visa waiver program by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and will become the first country to be added to the scheme since Poland back in 2019.
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