Today marks a significant milestone in U.S.-Israel relations as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announces visa-free travel for eligible Israeli citizens and nationals. Beginning October 19, 2023, Israeli citizens will be able to use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to apply for permission through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Israel Joins the U.S. Visa Waiver Program
DHS, in consultation with the Department of State, designated Israel as a participant in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program on September 26, 2023 allowing its citizen to travel visa-free to the U.S. This allows Israelis to register online for ESTA authorization, allowing them to visit the United States for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa. Those who possess valid B-1/B-2 visas may continue to use them for U.S. travel.
Reciprocity and Program Requirements
Participation in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is conditional. Israel has given written assurance that U.S. citizens can enter Israel without discrimination based on nationality, religion, or ethnicity. The United States will continually monitor Israel’s compliance, along with that of other VWP countries.
Who is Eligible?
Israeli citizens and nationals who qualify must possess a passport with biometric capabilities. Non-biometric or temporary documents won’t suffice. ESTA applications can take up to 72 hours for processing and are currently available in English only. More language options will be added by November 1, 2023.
How ESTA Works
ESTA is an automated system designed to vet eligibility under the Visa Waiver Program and assess security risks. Travelers are notified of their eligibility after submitting an ESTA application. Data from the application process may be shared with law enforcement or national security agencies as needed.
Limitations and Consequences
The VWP is not for those intending to stay beyond 90 days. Such individuals will be deemed inadmissible. Overstaying under the VWP makes one removable and ineligible for future VWP travel.
Alternative Travel Options
While the VWP offers convenience, a visa might still be preferable for those planning a long-term stay or intending to change their status after arrival.
The inclusion of Israel in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program is a momentous development, simplifying travel for thousands of Israelis. However, it’s crucial to understand the program’s limitations and eligibility criteria to make the most of this opportunity.
For more personalized guidance on this new development, feel free to schedule a consultation with us.