Israelis hoping to obtain an entry visa to the United States are being informed that the next available appointment for an interview by U.S. consular services is in August 2022.
Nationals of countries that do not have a visa waiver agreement with the U.S., which includes Israelis, must apply for a visa in person at an American embassy or consulate.
But the U.S. shut down its consular service in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Israel, it was only partially reopened a year later in March 2021.
Facing a massive backlog of requests, the U.S. decided to give priority for consular services to its own citizens, causing long waiting periods for non-Americans.
Thousands of Israelis who contacted the U.S. Embassy to enquire about obtaining an entry visa were informed they would have to wait up to 18 months for an appointment or to check online for a potential vacant spot at an earlier date.
The delays, which have caused many Israelis to scrap travel plans for the summer, apply to all requests to travel to the U.S., although those travelling for medical reasons are given preferential treatment.
Israel is not one of the 39 countries whose citizens are exempt from needing an entry visa to the United States, despite the two countries' close ties and repeated requests by Israel to join the American visa waiver program.
While Israel has seen its coronavirus infection rate shrink to almost zero, the U.S. embassy is not operating at full capacity.
Many employees returned home at the start of the pandemic and have not yet been reassigned to their posts.
Liam Schwartz, an attorney who represents Israelis relocating to the U.S. for work, said tourist visas could be renewed by mail.
"If a tourist visa expired no more than four years ago, it can be renewed without the need to schedule an appointment at the embassy," he said.
Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador in Washington, said he has raised the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Israel's efforts to join the visa waiver program have been repeatedly rejected over the years and Erdan said he was trying to enlist the State Department's help in accelerating the process for Israelis wishing to travel.
Some Israeli companies have offered to expedite the visas process at a cost of 500 shekels. But many who paid this fee discovered that the promises of a swifter visa application meant the companies were merely searching online for earlier appointments with the consular services.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem confirmed that American nationals have been given priority for consular services, leading to delays for visas requests.
The embassy recommended that Israelis who have received a visa for the U.S. in the past four years apply to renew it online."
It also said that preference was being given to Israelis who are studying in the U.S. or needed to travel there for work. As such, all requests for tourism purposes were on hold until those given priority had been processed.
The embassy also cautioned against using companies that claimed they could expedite the visa process in return for a fee as they "were not being truthful and were not offering a legitimate service."