U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday instructed his office to reexamine the U.S. policy and regulations regarding the granting of visas to young Israelis aged 21-26.
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In a letter sent by Kerry’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, Julia Frifield, to Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Frifield writes that Kerry “has directed the Department to take a range of immediate actions to ensure that, consistent with U.S. immigration law, we make every effort to maximize the number of young Israelis able to travel to the United States.
“The Secretary has directed us to address these matters quickly and comprehensively,” she added.
Kerry’s move follows several requests by Lowey and other senators and congressmen, who protested against the rise in the number of refusals to give visas to young Israelis.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby in Washington, also acted to mobilize Congress members to pressure the State Department on this issue.
JTA reported a month ago that Congress members claimed that young Israelis are visiting the United States after military service, and deserve consideration due to the stressful conditions in the Middle East.
The State Department in Washington and the American consulates in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where the visas are issued, warned that many young Israelis break the law in the United States, where they sell dubious cosmetics in shopping malls and by the roads.
Frifield notes in her letter that the initial review recently held by the U.S. State Department showed a dramatic rise in the number of visa denials to Israelis aged 21-26 in the last four years. While in 2009 the number of denials was 16 percent of the applications, 32 percent of visa applicants were denied in 2013.
But it also showed a rise in the number of Israelis who stayed in the United States illegally beyond the time their visa permitted. It also revealed that a change in procedures, which was designed to deal with the visa abuse, led to a significant increase in the number of visa refusals.
“In our initial review, we have learned that there had been increased rates of overstays and illegal employment, particularly for young Israeli visa holders, and that these trends had been observed over a number of years,” Frifield writes.
"We know that despite a two-thirds approval rate, this increase has led to a perception by some that young Israelis are unwelcome to travel to the United States," she writes. "Clearly, that is not the case. Israel is one of our closest friends and allies, and we welcome interchange between Israelis and Americans in every manner, including travel by Israelis to the United States."
Frifield added that the State Department "can and will do more to encourage qualified Israelis" to visit the U.S.
The letter to the congresswoman states that Kerry instructed the State Department to ensure that there are no "extraneous issues" which are impacting the visa-granting procedure for Israelis between the ages 21-26.
Moreover, Kerry asked American consulates to take into consideration "the facts and customs on the ground in Israel."
The letter to the congresswoman states that Kerry instructed the State Department to ensure that there are no "extraneous issues" which are impacting the visa-granting procedure for Israelis between the ages 21-26. Moreover, Kerry asked American consulates to take into consideration "the facts and customs on the ground in Israel."
The U.S. State Department will also inform and assist Israelis applying for a visa on the application procedure. "We believe that full information will benefit both the applicants and our consular officers who are adjudicating applications, so that fewer surprises occur on the day of the interview," the letter says.
The letter also opens the door for Israel's inclusion in cultural exchange programs, like those recently developed for Ireland and Australia. Such programs, it says, would enable more young Israelis ti visit the U.S.
"The Secretary wants there matters addressed with some urgency, and these steps will be regularly reviewed by his senior stuff," Frifield stressed.