This U.S. legislative season seems to be mired down around the issues of holding the U.S. health legislation commonly known as Obamacare hostage. Proposed U.S House and Senate legislation to include Israel in a visa program which enables entry into the U.S. for many countries for 90 days without a visa will not be enacted during this session of the U.S. Congress.
One of the criteria for a country’s eligibility for the visa waiver program is that it have a low visa overstayer rate of that country’s nationals. Israel has relatively few overstayers compared to some countries already on the visa waiver program. The actual likelihood of Jewish Israelis becoming undocumented U.S. immigrants is quite low and there are probably less than a thousand undocumented Jewish Israeli-borns who have been in the U.S. over a year.
The issue that has been raised regarding this U.S. visa waiver legislation is whether non-Jewish Israeli citizens would receive the same visa waiver. It’s not a stretch of the imagination that the U.S. seems very wary regarding the entry of Arabs and Muslims into the U.S. post-9/11.
This week the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqi Nationals, usually interpreters for U.S. troops, is set to expire with more than two-thirds of the visas unused and many times that number of endangered applicants fearfully awaiting news of their applications in Iraq. The SIV original legislation earmarked 25,000 visas over five years, and over that time roughly 8,000 have been issued. So far this year, the State Department has issued just 454 special immigrant visas for Iraqis.
In this environment, it seems that the long visa lines and arbitrary decisions of U.S. consular officers at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv will continue into the foreseeable future. The fears and prejudices that the Middle East evokes for American policy makers have a direct effect on the travel plans of Israelis.
It brings to mind a long ago incident. Upon completing a comprehensive study of Jewish Israeli migration to the U.S. thirty years ago, I was contacted by a staffer of a committee of the Israeli Knesset and was surprised that the only interest the staffer expressed in the study was a small table in the appendix which demonstrated that in 1979 almost fifty Israeli government officials in the U.S. had their diplomatic visas adjusted to permanent resident alien visas. Apart from Taiwanese diplomats, Israeli diplomats had the highest absolute numbers of conversion to “green cards.”
After thinking about the issue and being familiar with the local Israeli personalities, very few former Israeli diplomats had changed their permanent domicile to the U.S. and probably returned to Israel after their U.S. tours of duty. I concluded that it seemed that Israeli diplomats in the U.S. were just obtaining a permanent “visa of convenience” so they could skip the long lines at the US embassy in Tel Aviv and they and their family members could come and go to the US whenever they wanted. Unfortunately, it seems that circumstances remain and will remain the same in the foreseeable future.