US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Tuesday that the United States is considering adding four countries, including Israel, to its visa waiver program that allows citizens to come to America without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days, Reuters reports.
"We have four candidates in the pipeline: Israel, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania," Mayorkas said at a travel industry event. "We're very, very focused on the program," he added, saying it provides significant economic and security benefits.
The White House said in August, after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Biden emphasized "his administration would strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both US citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program."
Including Israelis in the Visa Waiver Program is an issue that Israel's Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, has been working on.
During a recent conversation with Mayorkas, Erdan stressed that he sees high importance in the inclusion of Israel in the program, and said that accepting Israel into the program would illustrate the special relations between the two countries and peoples.
In a subsequent post on Facebook, Erdan noted that a large majority of Israelis who apply for a visa and are refused are discharged soldiers who seek to visit the US after completing their IDF service and are refused a visa because US authorities mistakenly think they are seeking to settle in the country long term.
Erdan welcomed the move in a statement on Wednesday.
"We are continuing to work with all of our strength to enable Israeli citizens to enter the US freely without the need for a visa, as is fitting for our closest ally. The clear statement by Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, who is tasked with this issue and with whom I have met on a number of occasions to discuss this matter, is a significant step forward on the way to our goal."
To participate in the program, a country must meet requirements related to counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security, and border management.
There are currently 40 countries in the program, noted Reuters.