Israel took another step towards entering a visa waiver program with the United States, in spite of a delay in legislation on the matter.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and deputy U.S. ambassador in Israel Jonathan Shrier signed on Thursday an agreement on information sharing with the FBI. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is responsible for the visa waiver program, was also present.
As part of Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program for the United States, Israel – as all other countries – is required to meet a number of international conditions that will enable Israel to enter the program.
At the beginning of March, Israel signed the first agreement on information sharing, and on Thursday the second agreement was signed, which allows mutual information sharing – this time with the FBI. Under the agreement, both countries may check fingerprints from the other country up to one thousand times a year, and inquire about citizens who were convicted of serious crimes.
“That is it, all the agreements have been signed, now all that’s left is to pass three laws in the Knesset," Shaked said. "Even though Likud is trying to keep the visa waiver from Israeli citizens, which is at the most advanced stage ever, for political considerations – we are continuing to run as fast as possible at the same time and advance more agreements, which are a necessary condition for entering the waiver program," the minister added.
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Bar-Lev said: “The PSCS agreement is of strategic importance for Israel. The agreement will set processes for increasing cooperation between the Israeli government and the U.S. government in all areas concerning the war against serious crime and terror, using advanced systems that will allow monitoring and locating suspicious parties. Moreover, this is another significant step in the process of Israel joining the visa waiver program for the United States. The Public Security Ministry and the Israel Police have been given a major role in leading this project, and we will act to advance it in a manner that will contribute to the strategic relations between Israel and the United States.”
In order to join the program, the United States requires Israel to enact two laws authorizing the U.S. authorities to receive information about Israelis seeking to enter the country. One concerns transferring travelers' information to U.S. immigration when the passenger buys a ticket, rather than after they land in the United States. The second intends to locate “criminal patterns and behaviors” among those flying to the United States.
Another hurdle for the visa waiver process is Israel's need to lower the visa rejection rate below three percent. Israeli officials have long stressed that young Israelis just out of the army make up a disproportionately high number of rejected visas due to their lack of steady employment and income.
Three weeks ago, in the run-up to U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, senior progressive Democratic lawmakers urged the administration to keep Israel out of the program due to what they described as its discriminatory treatment of Palestinians with U.S. citizenship seeking to visit the West Bank. In a series of letters, more than a dozen lawmakers complained about the stringent regulations promulgated by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.