US may waive visa requirement for Israelis

US may waive visa requirement for Israelis

Bipartisan bill to ease entry to America already enjoys broad support in the House and could bring countries closer together

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California (photo credit: CC BY cliff1066™, Flickr)
Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California (photo credit: CC BY cliff1066™, Flickr)

NEW YORK — Israelis may soon find it much easier to visit and tour the United States.

On Tuesday, Congressmen Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives which would add Israel to the 37 countries whose citizens can enter the US for up to 90 days without first getting a visa.

Currently, Israelis must obtain a visa from the US embassy in Tel Aviv or consulate in Jerusalem to visit the country.

The bill, which already enjoys 49 additional sponsors in the House and will be introduced in the Senate by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), makes smart business sense, its author argued at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.

“Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will boost business here in the US and enhance cultural ties between our two nations,” said Sherman. “Israelis can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free, but not the United States.”

In a January 8 letter to Sherman, Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren wrote that “this bill would be a significant step forward in promoting closer ties in culture, economy, and tourism between Israel and the United States, and would help spur numerous business endeavors.”

“It is time for the United States to let Israel know we are open for business,” said Poe, the lead Republican cosponsor.

Before it reaches the House floor, the bill must pass the Judiciary Committee. A previous version of the bill, introduced by Sherman in May 2012, with just 13 cosponsors, was sent to the Subcommittee on Immigration, where it remained until the end of the session.

According to Sherman’s office, the bill will likely go once more to the subcommittee, but stands a better chance of receiving approval.

“The ranking [Democratic] member on the subcommittee [Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)] is an original cosponsor of the bill,” Sherman’s office said.

Sherman’s staff is optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“We have a lot more support than we had last year. We have a lot of bipartisan support, a senate introduction. Things in Congress always take time, but signs look good,” his office concluded.

According to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the bill also has a political message.

“We must be doing all we can to support Israel during these tumultuous times in the Middle East and this program is a great opportunity to demonstrate to the Israeli people and to Israel’s enemies that our friendship is stronger than ever,” she said.

“Given Israel’s place as one of our closest and most reliable allies, and as one of the world’s top economies and leaders in innovation and technology, many Americans are probably surprised to learn that Israel is not already on the visa waiver list,” said Josh Block, president of The Israel Project.

“This broadly supported bipartisan, bicameral initiative is good for America, and our economy, and will be mutually beneficial in fortifying already robust US-Israel financial and cultural ties, creating dynamic opportunities for growth in our tech and biotech sectors, and an increase overall tourism,” Block added.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also attended the Washington event.

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