Israel May Not Meet Deadline for Visa Exemption, U.S. Official Warns

Israel's participation in the program is subject to the passing of two laws governing the transfer of data about travelers trying to enter the U.S. Due to upcoming elections, the two bills are stalling in the Knesset

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israelis at Ben Gurion International Airport wait to check in to their flights in April.
Israelis at Ben Gurion International Airport wait to check in to their flights in April.Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A senior official at the U.S. embassy in Israel warned on Thursday that the delay in voting on the approval of two laws may harm Israel's chances of joining its highly-coveted visa exemption program.

The official stated that following the Knesset's approval of the laws, the U.S. government would need nine to twelve months to evaluate the effectiveness of sharing passenger data between Israel, the airlines and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The official made no comments regarding the political conflict in Israel surrounding the passage of the laws, but his remarks run counter to Likud's recent assertion that there is no problem with delaying the vote until March 2023, after the election, when Netanyahu could form a new government and work to pass the legislation if elected

For participation in the exemption program, the U.S. government set a threshold of less than three percent of visa refusals for citizens per year.

Both Jerusalem and Washington estimate that Israel may fall below the cutoff this year and be granted the exemption as a result of the COVID outbreak, which kept many potential tourists in Israel, and as a result of a massive campaign run by the Interior Ministry.

The U.S. government is expected to receive preliminary data on the percentage of visa refusals on September 30 this year, which it will then make public a few months later.

Officials close to the talks recently expressed concern that if the technical procedures for joining the exemption program are not completed by next September, Israel will be unable to utilize the low refusal figures from 2022 and would instead be forced to rely on the figures from 2023, which may be higher.

In recent years, Israel has experienced especially high refusal rates: two years ago, it stood at 6.5 percent, and last year, it was 4.9 percent.

Israel's participation in the program is subject to the passing of two laws governing the transfer of data about travelers seeking to enter the U.S., as approved in the 40 countries that have already been exempted from visas.

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