US Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced legislation on Friday that would no longer require Israelis to obtain visas to visit the United States for tourism or business purposes.
The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from certain countries to enter the US as temporary visitors for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa from a US consulate abroad.
“Israel is our closest friend and democratic ally in the Middle East,” Sherman said in a statement. “Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will boost business, tourism, and job creation here in the U.S. and enhance cultural ties between our two nations.”
The Israeli embassy in Washington also endorsed the bill.
The embassy issued a statement saying, “This act would stimulate numerous business endeavors, and help promote closer cultural, economic, and touristic ties. The passage of this legislation would further strengthen the special and deep relationship between Israel and the United States.”
According to Sherman's office, the legislation contains counter-terrorism and information-sharing provisions, and would ensure that Israel adopts biometric travel documents prior to being admitted to the program.
“Almost one-third of a million Israelis entered the US as temporary visitors annually in recent years,” continued Sherman. “Each had to get a US visa through a bureaucratic process that sometimes takes weeks. The number of Israeli visitors would increase substantially if Israel enters the Visa Waiver Program. That means more business, tourism, academic and cultural exchanges, and most importantly, job creation. This is an important way to further strengthen ties with our close friend and ally in the Middle East – Israel.”
The bipartisan bill received the support of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla), along with Representatives Ted Poe, Charles Rangel, Edolphus Towns, Steve Rothman, Bill Pascrell, Shelley Berkley, Eliot Engel, Michael Grimm, Mazie Hirono, Rush Holt, Aaron Schock, and Robert Dold.
There are 36 countries currently in the Visa Waiver Program. In 2010, over 17 million visitors entered the United States under the program, constituting 42% of all overseas visitors.
Israel has been in similar discussions with the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security to join the Visa Waiver Program since 2005.