Israel’s admission to the US visa waiver program, which was confirmed yesterday and is due to be signed in an official ceremony today, is only applicable to people with biometric passports. According to the Population and Immigration Authority, however, 1.8 million Israel’s do not hold such a passport, but only a plain "optic" passport, and they will not be able to complete the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) form in order to be able to enter the US for 90 days without obtaining a visa.
Furthermore, the machines for automatic issue of biometric passports, which it was promised in May would be operating in the Population and Immigration Authority offices in Tel Aviv and Beersheva by June, are still not working properly and are not available for use by the general public.
These machines were supposed to ease the backlog of passport applications. Now, with the visa waiver program due to come into effect on November 30, there is liable to be an upsurge in demand for biometric passports. The Population and Immigration Authority says that it has its "finger on the pulse" and is readying to deal with the matter.
Meanwhile, the Authority has released a statement saying: "Following the announcement of Israel’s admission to the visa waiver track for Israelis entering the US, we wish to clarify that holders of a valid US visa and a valid passport that is not biometric will not be required to replace their passports at this stage, and will be able to enter the US with the visa, as long as both the visa and the passport are still valid." In other words, travelers without a biometric passport can still enter the US, if they obtain a visa from the US Embassy as in the past.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 28, 2023.
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