WASHINGTON – The US Congress is currently legislating a bill that, if passed, will make it easier for Israeli businessmen and investors to receive a visa to the US. The initiative is meant to limit the red tape that many investors come up against when applying for work visas to the US.
This type of visa is extended to many countries in the West, but for historical reasons, not to Israel. Three days ago, the first step was taken to rectify this. Jewish US Congressman Anthony Weiner from New York placed a bill on the House Judiciary Committee's table that will allow Israeli investors access to this benefit.
The planned legislation is aimed at a very limited sector of Israeli businessmen looking to make significant investments in the US. The bill does no specify the required investment, but it refers to large-scale transactions that will create a significant number of jobs for Americans.
The bill has no connection with the move initiated by MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) when he served as interior minister. Sheetrit asked that limitations be removed so that Israel could be included in the list of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to travel to the US. This list currently includes EU member states and other countries in the West who are granted entry to the US for a stay of less than three months by showing their passport.
The main hurdle blocking Israel from appearing on this list is the issuance of biometric passports. The legislation that passed last year in the Knesset is an important step in promoting the cancellation of entry visas to the US, though it is not the only condition. The US is concerned, among other things, by the number of Israelis staying in the country illegally.
Following September 11, many Israelis had difficulties obtaining an entry visa to the US. Citizens who wished to visit the US were forced to wait three months for an appointment at the embassy.
Furthermore, applying for a visa is not cheap. Application fees are more than $100. Visa applications at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and the US Consulate in Jerusalem bring in an estimated NIS 65 million (about $17 million) a year, according to unofficial figures that 130,000 applications are submitted annually.