Updated: Oct 20, 2023
On September 27th, 2023, Israel received the long-awaited news of its inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), marking a significant milestone in the relationship between the United States and Israel. This development promises to enhance security, promote economic ties, and foster people-to-people connections between the two nations.
On October 19th 2023, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was updated to enable Israeli citizens and nationals to apply to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes. This update means that eligible individuals can enjoy stays of up to 90 days in the United States without the need for a U.S. visa, streamlining the travel process for both nations.
The VWP is designed to serve as a cornerstone in strengthening the security landscape of the United States and its partner countries. It goes beyond simplifying travel by creating robust security partnerships, with strict requirements in place.
To be a part of the VWP, countries must meet stringent requirements that encompass counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management. These measures ensure that all member countries prioritize security while facilitating legitimate travel and commerce.
Israel's inclusion in the VWP was not an overnight achievement. The Israeli government launched a comprehensive, whole-of-government effort to meet the program's prerequisites. This entailed passing new laws, establishing information sharing systems, and implementing updated entry procedures.
As part of its commitment to the VWP, Israel extended reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens, regardless of their national origin, religion, or ethnicity. This policy shift not only strengthens the relationship between the two nations but also paves the way for smoother travel experiences.
In a bid to ensure inclusivity, Israel engaged with Palestinian-Americans living both in the West Bank and the United States. Now, these individuals have the freedom to enter Israel visa-free and access Ben Gurion Airport, reducing travel barriers for Palestinian-Americans.
Israel's designation as the 41st member of the VWP is not the conclusion of this journey. The U.S. Government remains committed to engaging with Israel while closely monitoring the country's implementation of all program requirements. This includes the reciprocity commitments made by Israel on July 19, 2023.
Under the VWP, Israeli citizens and nationals will gain the ability to apply online for travel authorization to the United States through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The first day Israelis could apply for ESTA was meant to be November 30, 2023, however due to the circumstances around the October 2023 conflict in Israel, the date was brought forward to October 19th 2023. An approved ESTA authorization is valid for two years, offering convenience and flexibility to travelers.
Israeli citizens with valid B-1/B-2 visas can continue using them for business and tourist travel to the United States. However, ESTA presents an efficient and user-friendly alternative for future travel authorization.
In summary, Israel's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program signifies a pivotal moment for U.S.-Israel relations. It promises to facilitate travel, boost security cooperation, and foster stronger bonds between the two nations. As Israeli citizens prepare to embrace the benefits of ESTA, the future of U.S.-Israel ties looks brighter than ever.