The Biden administration has formally admitted Israel into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), known as Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) after years of effort. The VWP, which currently encompasses 40 countries, signifies that Israelis traveling to the United States as visitors will no longer be required to formally request visitor visas at U.S. Consular posts and undergo the months-long visa application process and wait time for the purpose of securing visitor visas to enter the United States. Going forward, Israeli visitor visa applicants will be visa exempt.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens and nationals of Israel to apply online for authorization to travel to the United States in accordance with ESTA. The ESTA authorization for entry is generally valid for a period of two years and may be renewed indefinitely. ESTA also requires that the applicant be over the age of 18 and be in possession of a biometric passport valid for ten years. For Israeli citizens seeking employment or pursuing studies in the United States, visas will still be required to be secured from U.S. consular posts in advance of entry to the United States. Criteria for admission to the program also mandate that the applicant country has a high visa acceptance rate and low visa overstay rate. The latest country admitted to the ESTA program was Croatia in 2021.
The U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, Alajandro Mayorkas stated that Israel had complied with a three-month test of its commitment to treat Palestinian-Americans equally and successfully. In conformance with the program’s criteria, the United States has also mandated that all U.S. citizens be admitted to Israel pursuant to the requirements of their bi-lateral agreement, and Palestinian-Americans both living in the West Bank and in the United States will have access to enter Israel through Ben Gurion airport, located in Tel Aviv, rather than access through other circuitous routes to enter the country.
ESTA Program Requirements
The ESTA program permits visitors to remain in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa and will not permit visitors to change or extend their stay after entry. The administration further stated that it would continue to monitor Israel’s adherence to the terms of the program, especially relating to the immigration and screening process for Palestinian-Americans and other U.S. citizens who have complained that Israel’s admission process has been discriminatory and has historically barred Palestinian-Americans from being able to use Israel airports for admission to Israel.
On the same day as the administration announced admission of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) brought suit in the Eastern District of Michigan seeking an injunction against the government’s admission of Israel to be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program alleging that the action of the government permits Israel to discriminate against Americans, regardless of their national origins and further alleges that the DHS and State Department took arbitrary and capricious action to redefine VWP statute and rules requiring reciprocal privileges for U.S. citizens.