Israel, U.S. Sign Agreement in Step Toward Visa Waiver, but Many Hurdles Remain

The agreement allows U.S. authorities to check whether Israeli visa applicants have criminal records

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Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Robert Silvers and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sign the agreement, on Wednesday.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Robert Silvers and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked sign the agreement, on Wednesday.
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel and the United States signed an agreement on Wednesday to exchange information between the two countries. Although this represents another step toward establishing a visa waiver for Israelis, obstacles remain in the process.

The agreement, signed by Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Under Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Robert Silvers, will allow U.S. authorities to verify whether Israelis seeking to enter the United States have committed felonies, even after the visa exemption is in place. The parties agreed that each side can submit up to one thousand such queries per year.

The agreement was a prerequisite by the United States as part of negotiations for Israel's entry into the visa waiver program, but does not immediately grant Israelis an exemption. In order for Israel to join the program, less than 3 percent of the visa requests from the country can be denied by the United States. According to people who work in the field, that number stood at 6.7 percent in the past year, a relatively high figure.

Israel recently asked the U.S. administration not to include requests denied due to technical reasons in this count, and to adopt a more lenient policy regarding requests submitted by recently discharged soldiers. Concurrently, the Interior Ministry recently launched a campaign aimed at teaching Israelis how to properly fill out a visa request form, in the hopes that it will help reduce the rejection rate. The United States will publish the number of declined requests for the year at the end of 2022, which will indicate whether Israel meets the criteria.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is coordinating efforts on the matter vis-à-vis the Biden administration, said at the signing on Wednesday: “We’ve taken another step toward exempting Israelis from visas…There’s still a process to undergo, but with the hard work of both sides, we shall deliver good news to the citizens of Israel.”

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