Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Thursday that Israelis will be able to travel to the United States without the need for a pre-issued tourist visa as of 2023.
Shaked spoke after her meeting with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and other officials. The minister was accompanied by the new Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Mike Herzog.
The meeting in Washington focused mostly on finding solutions the remaining obstacles remaining before Israel can be added to the Visa Waiver program. The first was the high rate of application refusals for Israeli applicants that must be reduced to under 3% by September 2022,
The decision to refuse a visa request is in the hands of the U.S. Consulate service and a reduction in denials may occur if the newly appointed American Ambassador, Thomas R. Nides, due to arrive at his posting next month, instructs his staff to show leniency when dealing with applications.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. suspended interviews for applicants and had counted interviews turned down, as applications denied. The officials decided to end that practice.
The second obstacle to adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program was the U.S. demand that they be allowed access to Israel's criminal database and a submission of up to 1,000 queries from the database each year, in accordance with the specifications of the program. This requires a change to Israel's laws.
The parties decided to establish a joint team that will address the various outstanding issues.
The Israeli team will include representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, as well as officials of the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Public Security Ministry and the Justice Ministry.
The U.S. team is scheduled to visit Israel in January for sessions with their Israeli counterparts, Shaked and Mayorkas agreed to hold monthly talks to review the ongoing process.
"The American government is very committed to the visa exemption process for Israelis and so is the Israeli government," Shaked said. "Like Secretary Mayorkas said in our meeting: there's a window of opportunity here and we have to take advantage of it and move forward."