VWP update

‘Israel does not currently meet’ Visa Waiver Program requirements, DHS tells lawmakers

The department’s response to recent congressional inquiries highlighted continuing issues with reciprocal treatment of Americans

Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua via Getty Images

People wait at the departure hall at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 28, 2021.

The Department of Homeland Security told lawmakers that Israel still does not meet the requirements for entry into the Visa Waiver Program, highlighting concerns about reciprocal treatment of American travelers.

“Israel does not currently meet all of the statutory and policy requirements for designation as a VWP country,” Zephranie Buetow, DHS’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs said in a letter to lawmakers dated Wednesday that was obtained by Jewish Insider. “The Administration strongly supports Israel’s candidacy in the VWP once it meets all requirements, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals—including Palestinian Americans and Americans on the Palestinian Authority population registry traveling to or through Israel.”

The letter comes in response to recent congressional letters from lawmakers — some pushing for Israel’s entry into the program this year and others arguing that Israel is not yet fit for entry. Israel faces a Sept. 30 deadline to enter the program.

“If Israel meets the reciprocity requirement as well as the other program requirements, Israel’s designation as a participating country in the VWP would be beneficial for the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, including for U.S. and Israeli citizens,” the letter continues. “To be eligible for the VWP, DHS and DOS firmly maintain that Israel must provide equal treatment to all U.S. citizens and nationals regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity seeking to enter or transit through Israel to meet reciprocity requirements for VWP designation, just like all other VWP members.”

The letter does not provide any clear indications of what, if any, timeline DHS envisions for Israel’s entry into the program. Israel is launching a pilot program this summer to allow Palestinian Americans to travel more freely into Israel, with an eye toward ensuring its VWP entry this year.

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