Waive the Visa, Wave Hello to Israelis

The U.S. and Israel's cooperation in the alternative energy and homeland defense industries is long-standing, but all Israelis still require visas to enter the U.S. My Visa Waiver Bill is aimed at easing this process, and helping Israeli investment and tourism in the U.S. The aim: half a million Israelis to visit the US every year.

From Haifa to the San Fernando Valley, U.S. - Israel co-operation in green energy, missile defense, counter-terrorism, and a myriad of other areas has mutually benefited our nations advancements in science and technology.

As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have fought hard to increase this co-operation. Several years ago, I authored the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, which became law in late 2007 as part of a larger energy bill. The bill created a joint American-Israeli program to fund cooperative efforts between U.S. and Israeli businesses and academics to develop advanced alternative energy technologies and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

I have also led the funding request for the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Program ever since its inception. The House of Representatives recently approved new funds for 2013 for this program. In a sign that the U.S-Israel alliance is stronger than ever, the highest number of representatives and senators since the programs inception joined me in the successful appropriations effort this year.

The cooperative energy program leverages small grant dollars to stimulate private sector innovation and new partnerships in this crucial field. The Israeli government and the private sectors in both countries have matched the U.S. government's contribution. So for every dollar Congress appropriates, four dollars of research is performed. Joint projects currently underway include solar thermal plant design, smart grid systems, and advanced laser technology to boost wind power forecasting.

Another area where U.S.-Israel cooperation has yielded remarkably successful results is homeland security – especially in border security, aviation safety, port security, and counter-terrorism.

Last year, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) joined with the Port of Miami in implementing a highly advanced video security and response system created by an Israeli company to help protect millions of travelers. U.S. officials from Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard travel to Israel to study homeland security preparedness drills and learn valuable lessons. Scientists at the Technion Institute in Israel and the Scripps Research Institute in California recently invented a remarkably inexpensive and efficient explosive testing device partially funded by the grant-awarding U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF).

All of these programs boost U.S. competitiveness in a critical field and provide for high quality jobs, at a time when our unemployment rate is above 8 percent.

I believe we must build on these efforts and expand into new fields of cooperation. In order to facilitate increased collaboration, we must make it easier for Israelis to visit the United States.

Too often, Israeli academics, scientists, and businessmen have to wait long periods of time to get a visa to come to the U.S., making conferences and meetings more difficult than need be. That is why I introduced the Visa Waiver for Israel Act,  a bill that would add Israel to the list of countries whose nationals can visit the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa. I am pleased that 25 of my fellow members of Congress have already cosponsored my bill.

Nearly 324,000 Israelis entered the U.S. in 2010 as temporary visitors. Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will boost business, tourism, and job creation in the US: if Israel enters the program, life would become easier for closer to half a million Israelis travelling to the United States. The increased travel would also help Americas economy: the U.S. International Trade Administration estimates that Israelis visiting the U.S. spent around $1.4 billion in travel and tourism in the U.S. in 2010.

I will continue to take a leading role in advancing U.S.-Israel science and technology cooperation. These efforts are enormously helpful in improving U.S. economic competitiveness, energy security, and counterterrorism – and help to get America back on track.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) represents the San Fernando Valley and is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Sherman will be contesting the 30th District seat in Congress against Rep. Berman (D-California) in November 2012.

Rep. Sherman's Visa Waiver for Israel Act is actively supported by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), the lead Republican cosponsor, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), an original cosponsor.

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