The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) has praised Secretary of State John Kerry for his quick response to an issue involving the denial of visas to young Israeli citizens and Israeli military personnel, which precludes them from entering the United States on a temporary basis.
Because Israel is not one of the 38 countries that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, Israeli nationals need a preapproved visa in order to gain entry to the U.S. Although the State Department maintains that it has no official policy whereby it makes obtaining a temporary visa an arduous task for young Israelis and Israeli military personnel, the percentage of Israelis whose visa applications were rejected has risen drastically.
In response to a letter from Representative Nita Lowey, which called on the State Department to end its practice of arbitrarily denying tourist visas for young Israeli citizens, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield sent the New York lawmaker correspondence, which set forth exactly how the State Department will address the issue.
“The National Council of Young Israel is especially grateful to Secretary Kerry for his swift and substantive response to a troubling issue that adversely affects young Israelis seeking to visit the United States,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “The Secretary’s recognition of the existence of a problem and his resolution to implement meaningful measures to ameliorate it is something that we appreciate, and is an important step in the continued enhancement of the strong and unbreakable bond between the United States and its ally Israel.”
“We are optimistic that the changes proposed by Secretary Kerry will remove the barriers that have made it cumbersome for young Israeli citizens to travel to the United States and we expect that the policy modifications will also include provisions to ease travel to the U.S. for Israeli military personnel as well,” continued Weiss. “We wholeheartedly agree that all those who travel to the United States using a preapproved visa must adhere with the requirements and restrictions associated with that visa and fully comply with all applicable laws governing the length of their stay.”
In its letter, the State Department acknowledged the close relationship between the United States and Israel and stated the need to ensure that all qualified Israelis can easily visit the U.S.
“Secretary Kerry shares your concerns about the increase in visa refusals over the last five years and has directed the Department to take a range of immediate actions to ensure that, consistent with U.S. immigration law, we make every effort to maximize the number of young Israelis able to travel to the United States,” Assistant Secretary Frifield wrote in her letter. “The Secretary has directed us to address these matters quickly and comprehensively.”
“We reviewed data on refusal rates for tourist visas for Israelis from the age of 21 to 26 and found that visa rejection rates have doubled from 16% in 2009 to 32% in 2013,” continued the Assistant Secretary. “We know that despite a two-thirds approval rate, this increase has led to a perception by some that young Israelis are unwelcome to travel to the United States. Clearly, that is not the case. Israel is one of our closest friends and allies, and we welcome interchange between Israelis and Americans in every manner, including travel by Israelis to the United States. The Department can and will do more to encourage and assist qualified Israelis to visit the United States.”
The letter set forth a number of specific actions that the State Department will take to resolve the issue, including directing relevant offices in Washington and overseas to review policies and procedures on visa adjudication and review, with a focus on applicants age 21- 26; evaluating whether its policies and procedures match with facts and customs on the ground in Israel and making any adjustments where necessary; expanding outreach and assistance to Israelis applying for visas through education of the Israeli public on how to successfully navigate the visa process, with full transparency of the standards applied; and developing recommendations for creating alternative programs to enable more Israelis to participate in cultural exchanges in the United States.
In addition, the State Department, together with the Department of Homeland Security, is creating a joint U.S.-Israeli working group to help Israeli move towards eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program, including through reduction of the overall refusal rate. The letter noted that “[t]his is a goal of both the United States and Israel, and it would make travel easier for citizens of both countries.”
Assistant Secretary Frifield informed Congresswoman Lowey that the State Department will report back to her in July on its progress in implementing these proposals.