Israel has long been interested in getting into the U.S. visa waiver program (VWP) as Israelis currently need to apply for a visa in order to visit America.
Recently, however, it appears that years of Israeli lobbying efforts are bearing some fruit. Last week, the Israeli government and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reached an agreement to share information between the two countries as it relates to the criminal records of citizens. This latest development is regarded as a step towards including the Jewish state in the visa waiver program.
The agreement was signed in Jerusalem by Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Policy Robert Silvers, in the presence of Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
The VWP enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, according to the U.S. State Department website. Israelis are currently required to go through a lengthy visa application process, even for tourism purposes.
Any country interested in joining the program must provide the U.S. with access to criminal records of its citizens. Under the new agreement, both the U.S. and Israel will be able to file inquiries regarding the criminal records of citizens seeking to enter their borders. The information sharing is expected to be limited to 1,000 inquiries only and won’t provide the countries with full access to one another’s criminal databases.
Israeli officials claimed in the past that such access would require an approval of the Israeli parliament. Shaked stressed it still would be a necessary step.
“Today we took another step toward visa exemptions for Israelis and signed an agreement that was a necessary criterion for meeting the Americans' prerequisites,” Shaked said in a statement. “As I promised, we continue to advance this objective on a daily basis with all our might and will do so until the job is done. There's still a ways to go, but thanks to the hard work of both sides, we will be able to deliver the good news to Israeli citizens.”
Israel would join 39 other nations in the desired waiver program, such as most EU members, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. An additional hurdle along the way is Israel’s visa rejection rate that stands at 4.5%, which is higher than the maximum 3% required.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.