President of the United States (US) Joe Bidenadministration has formally accepted the key US ally into its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) after years of efforts. The decision also means all US citizens will be able to request visa-free entry to Israel as part of that country's reciprocity agreement. Israelis will now be able to travel to the US for business and leisure purposes for up to 90 days by simply registering for an electronic travel authorisation system.
The visa waiver for Israel will take effect on November 30, 2023. The programme already allows citizens of 40 countries to travel to the USfor three months without a visa.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the visa exemption decision as proof of the strong ties between Israel and the United States administration and thanked US President Joe Biden.
“The designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Israel department of state and the department of homeland security stated the "Visa Waiver Program" is designed to enhance the security of the United States and partner countries while encouraging legitimate travel and commerce. The program builds comprehensive security partnerships between the United States and designated countries that.
Under the VWP, on November 30, 2023, citizens and nationals of Israel will be able to apply online for authorization to travel to the United States through the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization(ESTA). These authorizations are generally valid for two years. Israeli citizens with valid B-1/B-2 visas may continue to use them for business and tourist travel to the United States. ESTA applications may be found at esta.cbp.dhs.gov or download the “ESTA Mobile” app through the iOS App Store or Google Play store.
Under the terms of the agreement, Israel pledged to ensure equal treatment for all US citizens travelling with a valid US passport, regardless of race, religion or origin. The decision has been criticised in some quarters for the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinian Americans. Palestinian diplomats said the US had included Israel in the programme without fulfilling its commitment to equal treatment of Palestinian Americans.
Rights organisations have reported that US citizens of Palestinian descent have been subjected to discrimination and harassment by Israeli officials at airports and checkpoints even during the testing phase of the visa waiver agreement.