Between the Israeli penchant for rule bending and the State Departments’s distaste for the country, a visa waiver program for Israel seems farther than ever
Israelis who are not dual citizens with America or countries that have a visa waiver program with the US such as the European Union or Canada must apply for a visa before they can enter the US for any reason. Unlike other visa applications, this is quite a cumbersome and expensive process, involving travel to Tel Aviv and meeting with an immigration officer. In short, it is guaranteed to take a full day.
Since young Israelis have an outgoing nature and the discipline that comes from years of military training, they are often sought after in America for jobs such as sales, especially in high traffic areas like shopping malls and street corners and jobs that require physical strength like moving furniture. This demand and the desire by many young Israelis to make a few dollars while seeing America after their mandatory military service often leads to illegally working while on tourist visas and visa overstays.
The State Department is well aware of these problems, which makes it difficult for young Israelis to obtain American tourist or B1 visas. In 2019, 5.33% of all Israeli visa applicants were denied by the State Department, an increase from 5.1% in 2018. In 2015, the percentage of visa denials stood at 3.85% of all applications, so the trend is definitely in the wrong direction.
These numbers are significant because when the denied visa fraction falls below 3%, a country becomes eligible for a visa waiver program, allowing its citizens to travel to America visa-free. Israel has long wanted to gain this visa-free status, but the numbers of visa denials have not been supporting this desire so far.
A counter example is Poland, which obtained the coveted visa-free status after its visa denial percentage dropped from 6.37% in 2015 to below 3% in 2019.
Some in Israel claim that the State Department does not wish Israel to obtain a visa-free status even though it meets other requirements such as biometric passports because of that agency’s well-known animus towards the Jewish state. Others point to the Polish public education campaign aimed at informing young Poles about the perils of working illegally in America and overstaying their visas, a campaign they credit for the sudden drop in the number of denied visa applications in that country.
Be that as it may, a visa waiver program for Israel is not likely to happen until Israeli boys and girls disappear from the mall carts and the moving trucks they now operate in every large American city.