Beware of scams!
Beware of scams!iStock

Stephanie L. Hallett, Chargé d'Affaires ad interim at the at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, responded to the Wednesday announcement that Israel has been accepted to the US Visa Waiver Program.

"Congratulations on becoming the Program’s forty-first (41st) member! This is another reflection of the strength of our bilateral security, economic, and cultural relationship. Mazal Tov!" she said.

"I would especially like to recognize the efforts of former ambassador Tom Nides, who was a driving force in this effort. I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hangebi, who has been a steadfast partner of the embassy over these many months. And I have to thank the many many Israeli officials from across the government who worked tirelessly to help Israel meet the stringent qualifications to enter the program over the course of the last two years, not only under Prime Minister Netanyahu, but in a process that began under former Prime Ministers Bennett and Lapid."

Hallett emphasized, "I would like to remind everyone to beware of scams. Israeli citizens should only use the ESTA application on the Department of Homeland Security website. You don’t need to pay any third party to do this. And you shouldn’t. ESTA is easy."

She added, "The Embassy wants to remind all Israelis that the Secretary of Homeland Security’s designation does not mean that Israeli citizens without US visas can head for Ben Gurion Airport now for a quick flight to the United States."

"Now that Israel is a member of the Visa Waiver Program, or VWP as we call it, Israelis will need to submit an application through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA before traveling to the United States. ESTA is an automated, online system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under VWP.

"ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, and travelers will receive a response within 72 hours. ESTA authorizations are valid for 2 years and for multiple trips. Adult Israelis can ONLY use ESTA if they have biometric passports that are valid for 10 years. That means that adult Israelis without 10-year biometric passports will still have to apply for a visa at our embassy locations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

"The important thing to remember is that Israelis will not be able to use ESTA until later this year. It takes time to add new VWP member countries to ESTA. This means that Israelis will need to continue to use visas to travel to the United States for now. We will announce loudly and publicly the exact date when Israelis can use ESTA before November 30, 2023."

Hallett urged, "If you have an existing appointment for a visa interview for short-term travel to the United States, do not cancel or not attend that appointment. There are a couple reasons why we want you to do this."

"First, all nonimmigrant visa application fees are non-refundable, and the US Embassy cannot refund them under any circumstance. Please do not contact the Embassy or our appointment service to request one.

"Second, B1/B2 tourist visas are valid for 10 years, while ESTA authorizations are generally valid for two years. Also, you can stay up to 6 months in the United States on a B1/B2 tourist visa while you can only stay 90 days under VWP. In addition, you can request an extension to your stay or adjust status to another visa category (like from a tourist to a student) if you entered on a B1/B2 visa. BUT you cannot do that if you enter under VWP."

Regarding visits which are expected to be longer than 90 days in duration, she explained, "All Israelis going to the United States for longer visits or for things like studying, working, or exchange programs will always require visas. You cannot travel to the United States under VWP for this. If you attempt to do so, you could be denied entry into the United States."

"And my last statement is to the hundreds of thousands of dual Israeli-US citizens in Israel. US citizens cannot use ESTA to travel to the United States on their Israeli passports. US law requires that US citizens enter and depart the United States on their US passports.

"The Consular Section will be doing a public outreach campaign to reiterate these same points, and if anyone has questions, we encourage them to visit the embassy website," she concluded, adding, "Again, congratulations to Israel for joining VWP!"