The United States has officially announced the inclusion of Israel in the Visa Waiver Program, a significant development that allows Israeli citizens and nationals to travel to the US for up to 90 days for tourism without requiring a visa.
This announcement, made on Wednesday, is seen as a pivotal step in enhancing security and economic relations between the US and Israel.
In a fulfillment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement in April 2023, the United States officially welcomed Israel into the Visa Waiver Program this September. Netanyahu had expressed expectations that Tel Aviv would join the program, allowing Israeli citizens and nationals to travel to the US for up to 90 days for tourism without requiring a visa. This development, announced on Wednesday, is seen as a pivotal step in enhancing security and economic relations between the US and Israel.
Mutual Benefits and Enhanced Cooperation
Following modifications to Israel’s travel policies, US citizens can now also enter Israel for up to 90 days without a visa. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas emphasized the importance of this designation, stating, “The designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries.”
Enhanced Freedom of Movement
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken highlighted that this critical step would “enhance freedom of movement for US citizens, including those living in the Palestinian Territories or traveling to and from them.” The Visa Waiver Program is built on partnerships between the US and designated countries that adhere to stringent requirements in areas like counterterrorism, law and immigration enforcement, document security, and border management.
Palestine Calls for Inclusion
In the wake of Washington’s announcement of Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, Palestine has voiced its desire for inclusion in the program, seeking equal opportunities of freedom, equality, prosperity, and security, including simplified visa procedures. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry stated, “We expect from the American Administration to provide the same opportunities… for exempting them from [visa procedures].”
Strengthening Bilateral Ties and Equality
This development is not just a procedural change but represents a strengthening of the bonds between the US and Israel, reflecting shared interests and mutual cooperation. It is anticipated to foster economic ties, enhance security collaboration, and facilitate people-to-people exchanges. Meanwhile, the call from Palestine underscores the aspiration for equal treatment and opportunities in international agreements and partnerships.
Geoff Freeman, the President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, welcomed Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), emphasizing the program’s success in enhancing travel exports and U.S. global competitiveness. He highlighted that the program is crucial for U.S. destinations, businesses, and the overall economy. With Israel’s inclusion, the U.S. anticipates over 200,000 additional Israeli visitors annually, contributing approximately $800 million in direct travel spending and creating an economic impact of around $1.8 billion. Freeman urged the expansion of the VWP, noting the U.K. allows visa-free travel to over 100 countries, while the U.S. grants it to only 41. He stressed the importance of the Biden administration continuing to develop the program to boost U.S. global competitiveness.