15 April 2013

Israeli access to US Visa Waiver Program still faltering

American reluctance to allow Israel access to its coveted Visa Waiver Program has continued after the Israeli government continues to grant American passport holders the same freedoms when visiting Israel.

US visa

Israel is one of America's closest allies but has struggled to meet requirements to join the Visa Waiver Program.

The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows passport holders from member countries - including the UK and Ireland - to visit the country without the need for a US visa. It is a highly coveted status among international communities and one which Israel has had designs on since 2005.

Israel remains one of America's most crucial and closest allies but has struggled to persuade successive American governments to give the country access to the program due to its own immigration legislation.

The United States requires all VWP countries to maintain a reciprocal agreement as part of the program, meaning American citizens can visit member countries without the need for visas. However, American lawmakers, including members of pro-Israel groups, content that Israel routinely denies American applications from Palestinian or other Arab-Americans.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (APIAC) is leading the charge for the country's inclusion to the VWP, even going so far as to claim they should be given exception permission to deny Israeli visas to those Americans they fear could constitute a risk.

However, some politicians claim this almost goes so far as to officially sanction discrimination.

"It's stunning that you would give a green light to another country to violate the civil liberties of Americans travelling abroad," said one staffer for a pro-Israel body within the US House of Representatives.

Israel's inclusion to the VWP remains a popular issue within American politics with several bills supporting the proposal making their way through the Houses of Congress.

One of the most popular, and the one supported by APIAC, is written by Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, who stipulates that Israel be granted access to the VWP only after ensuring Israel 'has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens'.

However, opponents argue the language 'without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel' gives Israel licence to deny visas to Arab-Americans without reason in a caveat which constitutes an exception to the VWP rules and one which is not granted to the 37 current members.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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