In March of this year, the U.S. Embassy announced that some Israelis would be able to renew their visas without having to go through the interview process with a consular or embassy official. The new rule applies to Israelis with valid visas or those with visas that had expired within the last year.
The move makes it easier for many Israelis to travel to the U.S. But with such a pro-Israel administration in the White House, it’s surprising that Israel is not yet on the Visa Waiver Program. Israel has long been arguing that its citizens should have the right to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program; a right that has been granted to 38 other countries. These countries are mainly in Europe, but also include Japan, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand Taiwan and South Korea.
In November 2017, the U.S. was reportedly considering adding Israel to the list of countries that may travel there for 90 days without a visa. A deal had supposedly been negotiated. As part of the agreement, the U.S. would have been given access to Israel’s fingerprint database – but only to files of citizens suspected of crimes with prison sentences of more than 10 years.
Still, there are legitimate, valid concerns about Israeli privacy violations.
It would seem that dropping the interview process was a compromise. For now, Israelis must still obtain a visa in order to visit the United States, and the country still does not meet the requirements to be part of the Visa Waiver Program. That may change in the future, but the political landscape in America may make it difficult for change to come anytime soon.
Tourist visas can be hard to come by for young Israelis who may want to visit the U.S. It’s easier for older citizens to obtain a visa because many have some kind of tie to Israel – a job, marriage, family, etc. – that would compel them to return home. The embassy looks for these kinds of connections when approving visa applications. If you don’t have any evidence of any kind of connection that would bring you back to Israel, your visa may be denied and you won’t be able to appeal the decision.
Here’s the good news: if you are approved for a tourist visa, it’s valid for up to ten years.
Giving the U.S. access to sensitive data is a serious concern, and many speculate that reluctance to give access to Israel’s fingerprint database is part of the hold-up in allowing the country to join the Visa Waiver Program. While the easing of the requirements to renew a visa is a step in a positive direction, young Israelis – the ones more likely to travel – will still have a more difficult time being approved for a visa in the first place.
There’s no easy solution to the problem, but I remain hopeful that Israel will someday join the dozens of other countries that can visit the States without a visa. Much work needs to be done, but a shift in the U.S.’s political landscape could delay things further.