Nearly one out of every ten Israelis who apply for tourist visas to the United States are denied entry by the U.S. State Department. According to figures posted in Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot — in 2013 year of the 125,000 Israelis requested tourist visas to the U.S., 9.7% were refused. In 2012 that figure was at 5.4%, and as recently as 2007, a mere 2.5% of the requests were denied.
To ease the travel of its citizens, Israel is pressing to join 38 other countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program — a prestigious club of nations whose citizens don’t need a preapproved visa to visit America. So far, their efforts have not only been rebuffed, but Israel has seen a spike in the number of young people and military officers refused entry to the U.S.
The only qualification for the program that Israel lacks is a percentage of denied visas less than 3%. However denied visas have been on the increase since the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton foreign policy took over from the Bush administration.
Washington says Israel has not been let into the program simply because it has not met the requirements — and has pointed in part to Israel’s treatment of Arab-American travelers, drawing sharp denials by Israeli officials of any discrimination. U.S. officials say there is no policy in place to make it more difficult for Israelis to get “B” visas, which allow a 90-day stay in the United States for business or travel purposes.
Most of the denials are young Israelis, as it is common for Israelis to travel after completing their compulsory military service:
The report in Haaretz quotes an unnamed Israeli official saying that the rise in visa rejections probably stems from U.S. reluctance to allow Israel entry into the Visa Waiver Program. That policy allows travelers from 37 countries to enter the U.S. for business or leisure as visitors for up to 90 days without a visa. The U.S. has a ‘white list’ of countries whose citizens can come to the U.S. without a visa, but only countries with a visa rejection rate of less than 3% are put on this list. The recent growth in U.S. visa request rejections for Israelis forced Israel off that list.
The official said, “We have for years been waiting to drop below the 3 percent mark in order to obtain visa exemptions, but they keep raising the bar … In our view, this is being done artificially, with requests being denied for no good reason. In all other respects, we qualify for the program.”
The denial numbers have grown so dramatically that Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding an end to the “State Department policy of categorically denying young Israelis tourist visas that makes it nearly impossible for any young Israeli to visit the U.S.” [Emphasis added]
This arbitrary practice of categorically denying visas to all would-be young travelers due to the actions of a few bad apples is unjustified and counterproductive for the U.S. economy and should end immediately. Let’s punish the wrongdoers instead of making it impossible for young Israelis to come see our beautiful sites, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and support all the jobs related to those activities. It makes no sense to deny tourist visas to all young Israelis simply because of the actions of a few.
There is no evidence the visa denials are being consciously made because of an Obama Administration policy to keep Israelis out of the special visa program. It may all be a strange coincidence — if you believe in coincidences.