For Visa Waiver Program, Israel must not discriminate against Palestinian-Americans

“At this time, Israel does not meet all of the VWP eligibility requirements,” a State Department official told Al Arabiya English.

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Israel has still not fulfilled the requirements needed to be able to join the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), a State Department official said, citing the need to allow Palestinian-Americans to travel freely to or through Israel.

The VWP allows citizens of member nations to travel to the United States for business or tourism for 90 days without needing to apply for a visa.

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Being below the three percent non-immigrant visa refusal rate is one of the steps that Israel had to undertake to join the program. Israel now has a visitor visa refusal rate below three percent for Fiscal Year 2022, a State Department spokesperson told Al Arabiya English.

But more work is needed. “At this time, Israel does not meet all of the VWP eligibility requirements,” the spokesperson said.

The US government is working with Israel to fulfill the requirements, such as extending reciprocal privileges to all American citizens and nationals, including Palestinian-Americans, to travel to or through Israel. “This includes Palestinian-Americans on the Palestinian population registry,” the State Department official said.

Earlier this year, the US Embassy in Israel said entry into the VWP was a complex and laborious process.

Specific data sharing and traveler screening must also be developed, implemented and tested.

The window for Israel to complete the needed actions and pass legislation closes in September, the US Embassy said.

Israel joining the VWP would benefit the bilateral relationship between the US and Israel, US officials have said.

“It also facilitates legitimate reciprocal travel, increases commerce, and strengthens our people-to-people ties,” the State Department spokesperson told Al Arabiya English.

A group of 16 senators wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas this week calling on the Biden administration to ensure equal treatment of US citizens is upheld within the VWP “as the Administration considers Israel’s candidacy to join the program.”

Some of the concerns the senators raised in their letter was the Israeli policy restricting the movement of Americans with a Palestinian ID. They must apply for a permit to enter or leave Israel, including travel to and from Ben Gurion Airport.

Applauding the Biden administration for saying Israel must fulfill the requirements to join the VWP, the senators, all Democrats, said: “To date, however, we have seen no statements from the Government of Israel regarding actions or intentions to change current practices and policies that negatively impact US citizens on the basis of their religion, national origin, or ethnicity, especially in the case of Palestinian-Americans or Arab Americans.”

The senators added that every country has the right to establish its own rules for the entry of foreigners. “However, if a country wants the privilege of participating in our Visa Waiver Program, it does not have the right to discriminate against US citizens.”

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