Envoy says Israel in talks with US over entry into visa waiver program

Erdan tweets he had ‘productive’ call with American homeland security secretary; program allows for 90-day visits for business or tourism and is seen as a facilitator for trade

The departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on August 16, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
The departure hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on August 16, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel and the United States are holding talks on the Jewish state’s entry to the US Visa Waiver Program, the Israeli ambassador in Washington said Wednesday.

Ambassador Gilad Erdan said he and US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas agreed to set up a joint team to examine the matter.

Erdan tweeted that his conversation with Mayorkas on increased cooperation on terrorism and national security as well as the visa waiver program was “productive.”

Israel and pro-Israel groups have long pushed for Israel’s entry into the program, which allows for 90-day visits for business or tourism. The program is seen as a facilitator for trade.

One of Israel’s key issues in the past has reportedly been US requirements for access to Israeli fingerprint records.

Under the current Biometric Database Law, there is a sweeping prohibition on transferring data such as fingerprints to foreign authorities unless it’s for a specific criminal investigation. Foreign authorities are also prevented from keeping the information or passing it on to other entities.

Another issue holding up Israel’s entry into the program is the requirement that visa refusals be under three percent. The requirement has long been an obstacle in Israel’s drive to join the 39 countries currently in the visa waiver program, and officials in the past have lobbied for Congress to exempt the country from the threshold.

Travelers arrive at the international terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on March 6, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

In 2017 it was reported that additionally Washington was demanding that Palestinians with American citizenship be allowed to fly out of Ben Gurion Airport as a precondition for Israel being admitted into the program.

Currently, Palestinians traveling abroad do so via Jordan, using the Allenby Bridge border crossing administered by Israeli authorities.

According to the report, Israeli officials were not only concerned about the potential security implications, but also about the legal precedent and the likelihood of Israel being accused of a double standard toward Palestinians with other dual nationalities.

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