US approves Israel joining the Visa Waiver Program

Statue of Liberty credit: Shutterstock
Statue of Liberty credit: Shutterstock

Israelis join the citizens of 40 other countries who are not required to obtain a visa to enter US.

Updated 27.9.23 at 15.30

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has officially approved Israel's application for the US Visa Waiver Program. US Homeland Defense Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has signed the approval for Israel to joining the 40 other countries whose citizens are not required to obtain a visa to enter US. The move puts most Israelis on the Electronic Systems or Travel Authorization (ESTA) track, which is the "green track" that allows for quick, simple and cheap entry into the US. Here is how it will work.

What allowed Israel's acceptance to the program?

Only 40 other countries have received the status that allows entry to the US without a visa. The acceptance process for the program included a drop below 3% of refusals by Israelis in the simple visa process, but this is more of a technical detail. In practice, the main challenge was an extensive upgrade of information sharing systems in organizations like the police, the Israel Tax Authority, the Population Authority and the Shin Bet.

Before the upgrade, people wanted by Interpol or by the US authorities could enter Israel without automatic notification. In addition, one of Israel's significant concessions in the negotiations with the US is allowing Palestinians living in the West Bank with US citizenship to enter Israel for 90 days relatively freely, through the normal permit application.

What will be the timetable for implementation of the program?

Once Israel is officially admitted to the Visa Waiver Program by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the US will need to create a special ESTA form for Israel, which could take several weeks. During November, the first Israelis are expected to enter the US on the new track

What does the process look like now, and what will change?

Until today, in order to enter the US, a special procedure for issuing a visa was required, which included a physical visit and waiting in lines at the US Embassy in Jerusalem or the consulate in Tel Aviv, a payment of $140 for a regular tourist visa, and then a wait of several weeks until it was received. Once received, the visa is valid for ten years.

After the new program goes into effect, Israelis will be able to fill out an electronic form called ESTA, pay only $21 and receive approval within up to 72 hours, when in practice, the majority are expected to receive approval within a few hours. The permit allows entry to the US for 90 days. In addition, entry to the US through a regular visa will continue, so those who already hold it will not have to go through an additional process.

What is the economic significance of the new measure?

The possibility of entering the US relatively spontaneously is a significant upgrade for the business community in Israel, and its relationship with the US. An Israeli executive wants to meet with colleagues or the board of directors in the US at short notice, will be able to do so easily, instead of waiting several months for a visa. This is expected to facilitate doing business overseas, and strengthen the economic relationship between Israel and the US.

The B2 visa, which is intended for tourists and businesspeople alike, will be especially accessible through ESTA. This will allow economic opportunities at both the individual and macro level of trade between the countries. For those interested in relocation to the US for work purposes, the visa exemption is probably not expected to make a big difference, since it will grant entry to the US for only 90 days.

Today, there are a number of carriers that offer direct flights to the US, including El Al, Delta, American Airlines and United. The more the number of passengers increases as a result of the program, the greater the economic opportunities for the airlines. This will enable the profitable opening of additional direct routes to existing and new destinations in the US as well as for entry of new airlines into the routes.

How many people are expected to be affected by the move?

Today, some 450,000 Israelis enter the US each year. Following the new concessions, the number of tourists, businesspeople, and family visitors is expected to increase, surpassing half a million per year. However, only those who hold a biometric passport will be able to gain access to the ESTA track, and those without biometric passports will be forced to continue with the normal visa issuance process, or obtain a new Israeli passport first. In 2017 the issuance of non-biometric passports (apart from temporary passports) was stopped. Since these are valid for ten years, in 2027 it is not expected that any non-biometric Israeli passports will still be valid.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on September 26, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Statue of Liberty credit: Shutterstock
Statue of Liberty credit: Shutterstock
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