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Shaked: Israel will likely reach targets required for US visa waiver program

Outgoing interior minister says she is hopeful the country will stay below the 3% visa rejection rate required to enter the coveted program; results to be published in two weeks

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at B'Sheva group conference in Jerusalem, on October 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at B'Sheva group conference in Jerusalem, on October 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Wednesday that Israel will likely reach the necessary targets to enter the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Shaked said on Twitter that Israel’s annual visa-request rejection rates would be published within two weeks, noting that the maximum rejection rate must not pass 3 percent for the Jewish state to be accepted into the coveted program.

“We’ve worked hard to reach the target and I believe that in two weeks’ time we’ll see that we did, paving the road to receiving the waiver,” Shaked said.

“Due to delays in legislation, the process will be completed next year,” she added in an apparent criticism of the Likud party, which obstructed such efforts in recent months.

The Likud did not support legislation necessary for entering the program during the outgoing Knesset due to their refusal to support any legislation brought by the government.

Meanwhile, returning Likud MK Danny Danon reportedly spoke with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides earlier this month to assure him that the party would be working to advance Israel’s inclusion in the VWP once it returns to power.

Danon, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, reportedly reassured Nides that he will personally push for the completion of necessary legislation during the first few months of 2023, to get Israel back on track to enter the VWP by the end of the year.

The VWP allows citizens of participating countries to visit the US without applying for a visa, a process that takes time and money and whose results are not guaranteed to be successful.

The three required bills granting US authorities limited access to the information of US-bound travelers — as required of all VWP members — failed to pass in the last Knesset due to lack of support from the Likud-led opposition. Nides lobbied lawmakers across the spectrum to get on board with the bills, seen as overwhelmingly popular among all Israelis before parliament dissolved itself in June.

During an emergency session in September, one such item of legislation — which allows the state to collect personal information from airlines about passengers — passed a first reading.

Nides tweeted at the time that he was “excited” by the bill’s advancement: “Another step closer to meeting the Visa Waiver Program requirements. More work still – let’s get this done!”

Then Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon listens to speakers at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

While there is no clear deadline for when the three pieces of legislation must be passed, they must be implemented for a period of time before Israel joins the VWP, computer systems must be put in place, and the US ambassador must submit a formal request for the country to be added to the program.

Israeli efforts to become the 41st country to join the program have been underway for years. They received a boost last year when US President Joe Biden told then-prime minister Naftali Bennett that it was something he wanted to see put in effect, and that he had instructed his staff to play its part in doing so.

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