Israel has met all the requirements of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program and expects an announcement that it has been accepted into the program this week, with the decision to go into effect in November.
For average Israelis who want to travel to the United States, admittance to the program will put an end to tedious and expensive visa applications.
“It will have other significant benefits, relating to security. “Flights will be much safer,” said Gil Bringer, the senior official at Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority tasked with finalizing Israel’s admission to the program, to Israel Hayom in August.
“For the first time ever, Israel will be able to cross-check incoming passengers with the databases found in Interpol, and not just in cases where there is a stolen passport; it would also apply to people that have a criminal history. We will be able to deny them boarding at their point of origin through the API [Advance Passenger Information] system,” said Bringer.
Israel has sought acceptance into the U.S. Visa Waiver program for decades. One of the issues holding up its admittance is the U.S. requirement that all American citizens be treated equally. This would include Palestinian Arabs who hold American citizenship.
According to reports, much hinged on a month-long trial program Israel launched on July 20 offering free passage to Palestinian Americans who are residents of Judea and Samaria.
A U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department delegation observed operations during the trial, with inspections at Ben-Gurion Airport and crossings into the Judea and Samaria region.
The officials monitored whether Arab Americans were subjected to “selective grilling” by border control officers. One source said that while Israel would bar travelers considered a security threat, it would not bar Americans who support the boycott campaign against the Jewish state.
The European Union, Canada and Australia called on Israel in recent weeks to allow their citizens who also possess Palestinian citizenship free entry into the country, similarly to the access granted to Palestinian Americans.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that was “out of the question” due to security considerations, noting that that while restrictions on the entry of Palestinian Americans have been relaxed, they will continue to be subject to security checks, a precondition of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) for Israel’s participation in the pilot program.
Other requirements Israel met included allowing the Israel Police to share biometric data with U.S. law enforcement agencies, a rule change requiring Knesset legislation. Israel also passed a significant hurdle when the number of Israelis refused visas to enter the United States for the first time dropped below a 3% threshold—a benchmark set by the U.S. State Department.
The Visa Waiver Program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the State Department.
Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager