In Washington, Israel's Interior Minister Sees Hope for Visa Waiver

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference, last month.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Thursday that the U.S. is "very committed" to adding Israel to its visa waiver program, following a meeting in Washington with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

Mike Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, also participated in the meeting. Shaked called the possibility of Israel's addition to the visa waiver program a one-time opportunity that must be seized.  

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One of the main barriers to Israel joining the visa waiver program is Washington's requirement that a country's non-immigrant visa refusal rate not exceed 3 percent, which refers to the number of times foreigners applying for U.S. visitor visas are rejected.

Two years ago, Israel's refusal rate was 4.2 percent, and last year it spiked to 6.7 percent. The U.S. also requires that Israel provide it with any criminal history a visa applicant has, and states that it would do the same for Americans seeking a visa to Israel.

The Interior Minister's Office said three steps were agreed upon in the meeting. First, an inter-ministerial working team will be established to handle visa-related issues, with Israel's team including representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, Interior Ministry, Public Security Ministry, and Justice Ministry. Second, the U.S. team will visit Israel in January to examine the situation from up close and meet with officials. Third, the two cabinet members agreed to hold a monthly call to update each other on the process.

"As Secretary Mayorkas told me during the meeting, there is a window of opportunity and we must take advantage of it in order to move forward," Shaked said after the meeting. "This is a one-time opportunity that will not repeat itself, and so the two countries must act quickly. I am full of hope and motivation to complete the process that has been discussed by both countries for around a decade. The process will take at least a year, and is expected to be completed in early 2023."

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