An Israeli has been charged in the US with visa fraud for allegedly running an illegal employment scheme in the country, while helping other Israelis obtain entry permits under false pretenses for the purpose of illegal employment.
Shai Cohen, 39, was extradited by Israel in recent days to face trial. He is accused of running a network of kiosks in malls in Maryland and Virginia, where he employed multiple Israelis whom he helped obtain tourist visas, but whose real purpose in traveling to the country was to work there illegally.
The indictment was notably unsealed less than two months before Israel is aiming to secure entry into the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which would allow Israelis to fly to the US for 90-day business or tourism trips without having to apply for a visa in advance.
It had taken years for Israel to even qualify for the VWP because its visa application refusal rate had long been too high, partially because the US had been denying applicants it suspected were trying to illegally work at mall kiosks.
Cohen lived in the US between 2006 and 2013, when he left upon learning that authorities had raided his businesses. He was arrested in 2021 and the extradition process had been ongoing since then.
“Cohen is charged with conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States, said a Friday statement by the US Justice Department. “Bringing aliens to the United States for financial gain; encouraging and inducing aliens to unlawfully come to, enter, and reside in the United States for financial gain; harboring illegal aliens; and money laundering conspiracy.”
The maximum punishment for Cohen’s alleged actions is 20 years in prison.
Kiosk sales work in the US and Europe is a popular line of employment for young Israelis just released from the army, and numerous companies operating in Israel and abroad offer such jobs to individuals hoping to spend a few intensive months of work for a handsome return.
Products range from cosmetics and sunglasses to jewelry, supplements and more.
Though most such companies operate above board and only employ individuals with a right to work in the destination country, there are also those who facilitate illegal work.