The United States is denying visa requests from Israeli military, defense establishment and intelligence officials, according to a report in Maariv.
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Israeli defense establishment officials have discussed the matter in private meetings, after noticing a pattern emerging: Hundreds of individuals with ties to Israel's defense establishment have been denied entry to the U.S. in the past year, or have been allowed in for only three months, according to the report.
"In the last 20 years, I have been to the U.S. dozens of times as part of my job and have never encountered a problem," one government defense official told Maariv.
"During the past year, everything has changed: I've heard many stories of defense establishment people who weren't able to renew their visas, and it didn’t make sense to me until I tried to renew my own – and failed," the official said, adding he would have to cancel a forthcoming trip to the States because of the visa issue.
The Maariv report says at least 26 Israel Defense Forces officers and officials from the Mossad or Shin Bet who were supposed to travel to the U.S. did not get visas.
Additionally, a number of Israeli army officials stationed in the U.S. whose year-long visas expired were forced to wait in Canada for weeks while trying to renew their American visas.
In some cases, Israeli officials said, the visa issue could, ironically, jeopardize import deals from the U.S. to Israel.
Sources in Jerusalem had a difficult time explaining the phenomenon, but one of them told Maariv that the trend could stem from an attempt to reduce competition for American defense firms and contractors – or from fear of spying.
The U.S. Embassy told Maariv that all visa requests are examined on an individual basis in accordance with U.S. immigration law.
Late last month, Israeli media reported that the number of Israelis being denied tourist visas to the U.S. has risen significantly in recent years.
According to i24news, which cited State Department data, 9.7 percent of Israelis (12,000 people) who applied for tourist visas in 2013 were denied, 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.