Although it seemed that Israel would soon be admitted to the US Visa Waiver Program in 2021, negotiations have come to a standstill. Israel hopes to be granted admission this year.
What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The US Visa Waiver Program allows travellers from a few countries to travel to the United States without a visa. Instead, they can apply for an ESTA. Many countries are trying to be admitted to the ESTA programme. Travellers from these countries do not have to go through the long visa procedure, which can easily take months. Applying for an ESTA usually takes five to ten minutes and the ESTA is granted on average within 3 days three days. The reason that applying for an ESTA takes much less time is that there is no need for an interview at the embassy. The entire application takes place online.
All countries in the European Union are part of the Visa Waiver Program. Travellers from these countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, can easily travel to America with an ESTA.
To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, countries must meet some strict requirements. For example, the rejection rate for tourist and business visa applications for the United States in that country must not exceed 3%. The country must also issue electronic passports, as the ESTA is not a paper document but is digitally linked to the passport.
Israel has been struggling for some time with the percentage of rejected visa applications to America. One reason for this is that many young Israelis apply for visas to America. They have just finished their military service and want to go on holiday before starting their studies. As a result, these applications have a higher risk profile with the American immigration service, which leads to a relatively high number of rejections. Israel hopes to be below the 3% mark by November 2022.
Another important condition is reciprocity. This means that the country promises that all US citizens will be treated fairly and equally if they want to travel to that country. Israel has been accused of discriminating against Arab-American travellers to Israel. For example, Arab-American travellers say they are regularly singled out for extra screening by security services when they arrive at the airport in Israel. These screenings can take hours. Sometimes they are also immediately put on a flight back to America.
Israel makes commitments
The Israeli government has made it clear on several occasions that admission to the ESTA programme is of great importance. The country has made commitments to Arab-American travellers. For example, in the past, Palestinian-American travellers to Israel were only allowed to enter the country via Jordan. They will soon be allowed to land at Israel‘s largest airport, Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv. The country has also promised to better ensure that Arab-American travellers are treated fairly.
Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said in early 2022 she was optimistic about Israel‘s chances of being admitted. The US government has not yet responded to Israel‘s pledges.
Take note: this news article about the ESTA for the USA is more than one year old. It might contain outdated information and advice, and no rights can therefore be derived from this article. Are you going on a trip soon and do you wish to do know what rules currently apply? Read all about the up-to-date information about the ESTA for the USA.