Israel Designated For Visa Waiver Program
Israeli citizens will soon be able to travel to the U.S. without getting a visa first. On September 27, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department announced that Israel was designated for the Visa Waiver Program (called the “VWP”). This program allows citizens from designated countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days for business or tourism. Israel will become the 41st country in the VWP. And Israeli citizens can start using the program on November 30.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
Instead of having to apply for a visa from a U.S. Consulate abroad, VWP travelers must register in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to their trip. Travelers enter their biographic information. Then answer some questions about their personal history to confirm that they qualify for the VWP. The system runs a security check to minimize the chance of entry problems when the person arrives at Customs. If approved, the ESTA registration is typically valid for two years and can be used for multiple trips.
ESTA Registration Process
The ESTA registration process is very straightforward. And it only takes a few minutes to complete. While getting a tourist visa from a U.S. Consulate can take weeks or even months. Some Consulates are still working to clear COVID-era appointment backlogs, and tourist visas are typically at the bottom of the priority ladder. So, being able to use the VWP is highly advantageous. The tradeoff is that people who enter the U.S. using the VWP generally aren’t permitted to change to another visa category from inside the U.S., And they are only allowed to stay for a maximum of 90 days. People who obtain a B1/B2 tourist visa from the Consulate can be admitted to the U.S. for up to six months. But, for most travelers who only need to make occasional, short trips to the U.S., the VWP is ideal.
In order to be admitted into the VWP, the foreign country must offer similar visa-free entry requirements to U.S. citizens. Israel recently extended entry privileges to all U.S. citizens, regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity, including Palestinian-Americans. This change paved the way for the U.S. to add Israel to its VWP.
The addition of Israel to the VWP is timely given the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. The VWP could give Israelis a way to escape the threat of violence in their home country for at least a short time.