Starting from November, Israeli citizens will enjoy visa-free entry into the United States, marking a significant development long sought after by Israel and its citizens.

This move is part of Israel's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program, an initiative already involving 41 countries. The primary advantage of this program is that Israelis will no longer need to undergo the lengthy visa application process, which previously carried the risk of being denied entry.

Additionally, the inclusion of Israel in the Visa Waiver Program means that Palestinian-Americans residing in the West Bank and Gaza will now have the opportunity to enter Israel after completing a simple form and a short waiting period. Previously, Israel's restrictions on Palestinian travel served as a barrier to its participation in the program.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, recently made the announcement that Israel had successfully passed a three-month test to ensure equal treatment for Palestinian-Americans. The Visa Waiver Program requires participating countries to grant unrestricted entry to U.S. citizens, without discrimination based on national origin, religion, or ethnicity. Israel has updated its entry policies to meet these requirements, as noted by Mayorkas.

Israel's Ambassador Michael Herzog expressed gratitude to Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for their roles in facilitating Israel's entry into the program. He emphasized the importance of strengthening the people-to-people ties between Israelis and Americans, allowing for greater interaction and connectivity between the two nations.

Under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens from participating countries can check their eligibility for visa-free travel through U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Once approved, they can travel to the United States for up to 90 days over a two-year period.

Scott Lasensky, a former U.S. diplomat who now teaches U.S.-Israel relations, views this development as a win-win-win situation. It benefits Israelis, for whom traveling to the U.S. was previously challenging, as well as Arab Americans, including Palestinian and Muslim Americans, who have faced difficulties when traveling to and through Israel. Lasensky recognizes that despite broader geopolitical challenges, this move offers tangible benefits to these populations.

Israel's official inclusion in the program will take effect at the end of November. However, continued participation is not guaranteed, as the United States will monitor Israel's adherence to program requirements, including equal treatment of Palestinian Americans.

In the past, countries have been removed from the Visa Waiver Program if their citizens frequently overstayed U.S. visas, but Israel appears to have met this requirement recently due to lower travel rates during the pandemic. Intelligence-sharing standards have also been adapted to meet the program's criteria.

Although Israel has sought entry into the program for many years, it faced obstacles related to reciprocity and visa refusal rates. President Joe Biden initiated a multi-departmental effort to bring Israel into the program after a meeting with then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in August 2021.

Arab-American groups have raised concerns about continued discrimination against Arab Americans by Israel. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee even filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent Israel's entry into the program, citing various discriminatory practices. Nonetheless, Israel's inclusion in the program seems unlikely to be reversed, given the substantial support it has received from pro-Israel groups and bipartisan backing from U.S. senators.

In summary, Israel's entry into the Visa Waiver Program will simplify travel for its citizens and improve connectivity between Israel and the United States, albeit with ongoing scrutiny to ensure compliance with program requirements. Photo by Swapnil1101, Wikimedia commons.