Updated: Feb 28, 2022
On a recent visit to Washington D.C., Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was optimistic his country may soon me added to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Israeli Prime Minister was meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding Israel’s admission into the program. The two leaders were in agreement over the intent to admin Israel into the program.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 41 countries to enter the United States without a visa. It was established in 1986 with the first two members, Japan and the United Kingdom, being added in 1988. If Israel is admitted into the VWP, individuals holding an Israeli passport will be eligible to use ESTA to enter the United States for tourism, business or transit purposes of up to 90 days per visit.
This would be greatly advantageous to travelers when compared to the current entry requirements, which entail Israeli passport holders applying for a U.S. visa. An ESTA is an online application process which enables travelers to obtain travel authorizations in as little as 15 minutes. However, some applications can take up to 72 hours to obtain approval due to routine processing checks. Conversely, a U.S. visa application typically takes 4-6 weeks to process from start to finish and requires attendance at a U.S. embassy for an interview with a consulate member. The cost of an ESTA is also significantly lower when compared to a U.S. visa.
Admission into the Visa Waiver Program will save Israeli citizens time and money when applying for a travel authorization to visit the United States. Israel has been pushing for admission into the Visa Waiver Program for many years, since the start of the program in 1986. The few issues remaining with admission into the program are being worked out by the United States Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.
It is estimated that Israel will be admitted into the Visa Waiver Program sometime in 2023. This is conditional upon the over-staying rates of Israeli visa-holders in the U.S. staying below 2% as well as Israel reciprocating fair processing and approval of visa applications to enter Israel that are submitted by Palestinian-Americans. There are also several other conditions that must be met for a country to be admitted into the VWP, however, it is foreseen that Israel will be able to satisfy the entry criteria.