Major drop in rejections leaves Israel near US visa waiver threshold


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The rate of U.S. visa refusal for Israelis dropped substantially last year, nearing the threshold that would allow Israel into the U.S. visa waiver program.

The drop was revealed Wednesday in a release by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who has advocated for allowing Israel into the visa waiver program, which allows nationals to travel to and from participating countries without pre-arranging visas.

According to the release, the refusal rate for Israelis in 2015 was 3.85 percent, down from 8.2 percent in 2014.

The threshold for entry into the visa waiver program is a 3 percent refusal rate. There are currently 38 countries with visa waiver agreements with the United States, which has made exceptions for some countries that exceed the threshold.

Israel and pro-Israel groups have long sought 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.

Meng attached to her release a letter thanking Secretary of State John Kerry for the decrease. In 2014, the State Department set up a joint task force with Israel to facilitate Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program.

“I thank you for this improvement and urge you to continue to ensure that the Department remains vigilant in its effort to adequately assess whether or not to refuse entry to visa applicants,” she said in the March 7 letter.

One reason for Israel’s relatively high refusal rate was an effort by U.S. consular officials to keep out young Israelis who travel to the United States ostensibly as tourists but illegally obtain work, often selling purported Dead Sea products in malls.

Other factors inhibiting Israel’s entry into the program include evidence that Israel discriminates against U.S. citizens of Arab and Muslim origin in allowing entry, and allegations that Israel conducts industrial espionage in the United States.

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