U.S. Congress Set to Debate Israeli Visa Exemption

Members of Congress will soon debate a new bill – the Visa Waiver for Israel Act of 2012 – that would exempt Israeli citizens from needing a visa to enter the United States for up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes. Currently, the Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 37 countries to visit the United States without a visa, including western and central European countries, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Australia. The United States Congress is set to vote on the bill on January 15, and if it passes, it will eliminate the need for Israeli citizens to know how to apply for a visitor visa to United States.

Efforts have been made in the past to add Israel to the Visa Waiver Program list, but these measures were rejected in the Senate. The new bill was drafted by Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Brad Sherman (D-California), and signed by 25 other members of the House of Representatives. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) will propose the bill to the Senate. Sherman, the senior member of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the bill in May 2012.

Since 2005, Israel has sought admittance into this program; however, because Israelis’ entry visa rejection rate is more than 3 percent and not all citizens have biometric passports, the country has not been added. Israeli officials have also urged the United States to enforce a more thorough security check for U.S. citizens of Palestinian origin who enter the Jewish state.

“I’m pleased to join with my colleagues Ted Poe, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and eleven additional members of Congress to introduce the Visa Waiver for Israel Act,” Sherman said after the introduction of the bill. “Israel is our closest friend and democratic ally in the Middle East. Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will boost business, tourism, and job creation here in the US and enhance cultural ties between our two nations.”