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U.S. to approve visa free travel for Israeli citizens - ABC News

U.S. to approve visa free travel for Israeli citizens - ABC News Israel will get visa-free travel (GettyImages)
Author: Maria Kholina

The Biden administration is reportedly set to admit Israel into an exclusive club that will allow its citizens to enter the United States without an American visa. The announcement of Israel's inclusion in the visa waiver program is expected later this week, according to ABC-News.

The final announcement is to come just eight days after President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Although the leaders did not raise the issue in their brief remarks to reporters at that meeting, it has still been a subject of intense negotiation and debate for months as has been the Biden administration's effort to secure a deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia

The program is managed by the Department of Homeland Security, which currently allows citizens from 40 countries, primarily in Europe and Asia, to travel to the United States for up to three months without a visa.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is expected to make this announcement on Thursday, shortly after receiving a recommendation from Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding Israel's acceptance, according to five anonymous sources.

Under the waiver program, Israelis will be able to travel to the U.S. for business or leisure purposes for up to 90 days without a visa simply by registering with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

Israel's inclusion in this program has been a priority for Israeli leaders who have been changing over the years and represents a significant achievement for Netanyahu. He has often clashed with the Biden administration on issues related to Iran, the Palestinian conflict, and a recent proposed change to Israel's judicial system.

Over the past two years, Israel has met two out of three key criteria for joining the American program - a low visa refusal rate and a low visa overstay rate. It has been striving to fulfill the third requirement, reciprocity, which means that all U.S. citizens, including Americans of Palestinian descent, should be treated equally when traveling to or through Israel.

Citing national security considerations, Israel has long maintained separate entry requirements and screening procedures for Americans of Palestinian descent. Many have complained that these procedures were burdensome and discriminatory. Americans with Palestinian residency documents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were mostly prohibited from using Israel's international Ben-Gurion Airport. Instead, like other Palestinians, they had to travel through Jordan or Egypt to reach their destinations.

According to official sources, in recent months, Israel has taken steps to adjust its entry requirements for Americans of Palestinian descent, including allowing them to fly directly to the West Bank and Israel from Ben-Gurion Airport. Israel has also pledged to ease the movement of Americans of Palestinian descent traveling in and out of the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas.

In October 2021, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the United States was considering adding four countries to its visa waiver program. These countries are Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania.