WASHINGTON (JTA) — The United States and Israel are creating a working group to help Israel advance toward joining the visa waiver program. “This is a goal of both the United States and Israel, and it would make travel easier for citizens of both countries,” Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, said in a letter sent Thursday to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

The Department of Homeland Security is also part of the working group, Frifield said.

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The letter was the first indication that the U.S. government is dedicating resources to facilitate Israel’s entry to the program, which allows travel without pre-arranged visas.

Two major obstacles have kept Israel from joining the program: Allegations by U.S. officials that Israel has discriminated against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry, and a proliferation of young Israelis traveling to the United States as tourists and then working illegally.

The maximum visa rejection rate for entry into the program is 3 percent, and Israel’s is at 9.7 percent, spiking up from a 6 percent average in recent years.

The letter from Frifield to Lowey outlined measures that would address concerns about visas denied because of suspicions that applicants planned to seek illegal employment, but did not touch the issue of discrimination, although State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki raised it last month, saying it was a core issue.

Among the measures outlined by Frifield in her letter were a review of practices affecting Israelis aged 21-26 who want to travel to the United States, more education about how best to obtain visas for such travel and expanding cultural exchange programs for young Israelis. Frifield said the State Department had reviewed the visa refusal rate for Israelis aged 21-26 and found it had doubled from 16 percent to 32 percent in 2013. She said the main factor in the increase was Israelis seeking work illegally and noted the visa approval rate for that age group was nonetheless relatively high.

“We know that despite a two-thirds approval rate, this increase has led to a perception by some that young Israelis are unwelcome to travel in the United States,” Frifield said. “Clearly that is not the case. Israel is one of our closest friends and allies.”

Lowey, who with other lawmakers led demands for a review of the visa rejection rate for young Israelis, praised the measures outlined by Frifield.

“I am pleased Embassy Tel Aviv and the State Department will undertake this full review of visa policies and have committed to making it easier — not more difficult — for young Israelis to travel to the United States,” she said in a statement.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Screw Obama Baby Mama Drama, Muslim Ahole. Lying as only a Muslim could lie. Israel is a true republic. Muslims are integrated into Israel’s core, for better or worse. How many Jews live in Gaza or the West Bank? Maybe one or two vs the millions of Muslims living in Israel.

  2. And why shouldn’t Israel discriminate against these ppl? They may have the USA fooled, the government that is , but not the ppl we know , we haven’t forgotten 9/11 even if the government wants to act like we are a forgiving and forgotten ppl, not so! We don’t want these ppl here either ! Discriminate, Israel you’ll be safer for it, Israel is not fooled by these people and neither should the Europeans be either! Their way is destruction!

  3. So all of the Mexicans poring illegally into the USA and being deported is not even addressed? Seems screwed up to me, and that the Arab agenda is so twisted and ridiculous. Israel has to keep itself secure from the animals that are trying and vowing to destroy them! There is a difference and people need to stop listening to the Arab liars!

  4. My grandchildren have dual citizenship since their mother is a born citizen of the US. They have been to the US many times with no visa problems. On the other hand, my wife and I have been to Israel many times and need only our valid passports to enter Israel.
    I fail to see a need of change in the visa programs on the part of either the US or Israel. Perhaps, more definite explanation of the problem(s) and solutuion would be helpful.

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