Some prominent members of the Democratic Party in the US Congress have made it clear that they do not want Israel to be admitted to the US Visa Waiver Program, also known as the ESTA programme. Israel is said not to meet the conditions.
Israel close to ESTA approval for years
It is no secret that Israel wants to be admitted as soon as possible to the ESTA programme of the United States. Despite the close ties between the two countries, Israel is still not part of the so-called Visa Waiver Program, which allows travellers from specific countries to travel to the US without a visa. The country has been lobbying the US government for years to speed up the admission process, and at various times it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Israeli travellers would also be allowed to travel to America without a visa. However, to date, travellers from Israel are still unable to travel to America with an ESTA. Israel is struggling with, among other things, the number of rejected applications for visas to the US in the country, which may not exceed 3% to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. Currently, that rate is about 7%, which is partly due to incorrectly completed applications, such as applications submitted with a passport photo that is too old. The Israeli government has launched a campaign to educate the public on how to properly submit a visa application.
A much bigger problem for Israel, however, has to do with the way it treats travellers who want to travel to the occupied West Bank. Travellers with links to the Palestinian state are often denied entry into Israel.
Pressure from progressive congressmen
The stricter rules that Israel applies to certain travellers also affect US travellers, for example, those with dual nationality. One of the conditions for admission to the ESTA programme is that all US travellers must be able to travel to the relevant country without any difficulties. The United States has already told Israel that the travel rules for all US travellers must be the same. Prominent US congressmen have also expressed their dissatisfaction with Israelʼs current policy.
Among others, well-known progressive congressmen Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have signed a letter calling on the administration of President Joe Biden not to allow Israel to participate in the ESTA programme. The main argument is that Israel has a discriminatory policy towards certain US travellers. For example, in many cases, US travellers who are also on the Palestinian population register are not allowed to enter Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition, Muslims and Arab travellers from the United States often experience problems at Israeli airports.
Israel maintains its policy
For the time being, Israel does not seem to be giving in to pressure from America. Earlier this year, Israel tightened the rules for travel to the West Bank, making it virtually impossible for travellers with ties to the Palestinian state to enter the area. This decision was also met with strong criticism from the US government, and Israel was also warned that admission to the ESTA programme was at risk. The US administration has said that there is a risk that Israel will be removed from the list of applicants altogether.