Jerusalem, 30 January, 2023 (TPS) — Israel cleared a key hurdle in its efforts to join the US Visa Waiver program.
The program allows citizens of designated countries to enter the US for 90 days without a visa. Forty countries are already in the program and Israeli officials have been lobbying to be included for years.
According to the US State Department figures released on Monday, the rejection rate of Israeli visa applications from October 1, 2021-September 30, 2022 dropped below the three percent benchmark for the first time. A rejection rate below three percent is a pivotal condition for joining the program.
“Israel has made one huge step,” said US Ambassador Tom Nides in a video posted on social media on Monday.
Other steps must be completed before Israel’s entry into the program can be finalized. The Knesset still needs to pass legislation and make a “public, legislative and legal” commitment to ensuring entry rights for all American citizens by September 30. American officials have accused Israel of discriminating against Palestinian-American travelers.
American officials hope the Knesset will pass the necessary legislation before it goes on recess in April.
Nides said “the door will close” if the legislation is not passed by September.
According to the Interior Ministry, an average of 150,000 Israelis apply for US visas annually.