The number of Israelis being denied tourist visas to the United States has risen significantly in recent years, i24news reported Monday.
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According to the report, which cites State Department data, 9.7 percent of Israelis (12,000 people) who applied for tourist visas in 2013 were denied. That's up from 5.4 percent of requests that were rejected in 2012 and 2.5 percent that were refused in 2007.
A senior Israeli official surmised that the increase stems from reluctance in the U.S. to allow Israel entry into the Visa Waiver Program. That policy allows travelers from 37 countries to enter the U.S. for business or leisure as visitors for up to 90 days without a visa.
Israel has sought admittance into the program since 2005; however, because Israelis' visa rejection rate has been more than 3 percent, it has not been added.
"We have for years been waiting to drop below the 3 percent mark in order to obtain visa exemptions, but they keep raising the bar," the senior official told i24news. "In our view, this is being done artificially, with requests being denied for no good reason. In all other respects, we qualify for the program."
Israel's entry into the waiver program was included in a pair of broader U.S.-Israel bills last year dealing with everything from improving cyber security to enhancing economic cooperation.
That legislation called for Israel to be granted a waiver if it has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.
Critics said that would create an exemption not offered to the 37 other nations that have visa-free travel to the States. But pro-Israel groups that have been lobbying for visa-free travel dispute that interpretation.
Some some U.S. lawmakers demanded full reciprocity for all Americans wishing to travel to Israel, expressing concern that the proposed legislation didn't do enough to eliminate Israeli discrimination against Palestinians and Arab-Americans seeking to enter its borders.