A bipartisan group of 58 lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging them to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, saying that it would further bolster bilateral ties between the allies.
The letter — spearheaded by Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) — notes that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 418,000 Israelis visited the U.S. and spent a total of $1.2 billion annually.
“Israel’s participation in this program would grow the U.S. economy, strengthen national security at each of our borders, and increase opportunities for people-to-people exchange, which bolsters our already unique bilateral relationship,” the letter stated.
There has been momentum towards Israel joining the Visa Waiver Program in recent months. During his meeting with President Joe Biden in August, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett raised the issue with the president, with the White House saying that the administration would work together with Israel on the issue.
In late October, Mayorkas said that Israel is one of four countries “in the pipeline” for the program.
Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked met with Mayorkas last week to discuss the program, among other issues, saying that she expects Israel to join by 2023.
The program, in which 40 countries are currently eligible, allows foreign citizens to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business without a visa for up to 90 days.