Visa Waiver Program: Here's What We Know
On July 19, the U.S. and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding MOU, a non-binding document setting the conditions for Israel’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program VWP. This sets in motion the process of incorporating Israel into the VWP. If admitted, this would mean that Israeli nationals would not require a visa to visit the United States for up to 90 days, and in theory, this privilege would be reciprocated. Once the MOU was signed, Israel’s 30-45 day trial period began in order to assess Israel's eligibility.
In order for Israel to be deemed eligible, its discriminatory treatment towards Palestinian Americans would have to cease, including routine invasive searches and interrogations, the denial of entry, etc. All Americans would have to be treated equally, regardless of race, nationality, or religion, a concept foreign to apartheid Israel. For example, upon Israel’s potential entry into the VWP, Palestinian ID holders would still be at the mercy of martial law, while all other US citizens would be subject to civil law.
According to the little information available to us now, the only substantive change to Israel’s entry policies under the VWP would be that Palestinian ID holders from the West Bank would be permitted to use the Ben-Gurion airport, as opposed to the Allenby crossing.
Other than this, it doesn’t seem that much else has changed. For example, the VWP largely excludes Palestinians holding Gaza IDs, with their entry into Gaza being dependent on having a first-degree family member inside Gaza, as well as permission to enter 45 days in advance.
Various aspects of the MOU are troublesome. The MOU essentially accepts Israel’s differential treatment of Palestinians and does not require a substantive change in Israel’s policy, thereby leaving Israel’s discriminatory laws intact, and limiting the possibility of checking Israel’s practice of racial profiling. Moreover, the process of determining whether Israel complies with the terms of the MOU is unclear, and no mechanism exists to effectively collect data on the number of travelers from the US, leaving Israel with a weekly uninvestigated self-reporting requirement.
Since July 20th, thousands of U.S. Citizens have traveled under Israel’s new policy, and there’s been positive and negative feedback on their experiences. AJP Action and AMP alongside many other organizations and Palestinians don’t believe that Israel should be admitted into the visa waiver program given their long-standing discriminatory track record of denying entry to Palestinian- and Arab-Americans, Muslims, and Americans who advocate for Palestinian rights.
FAQs Regarding New Israeli Travel Procedures for U.S. Citizens:
On July 20, the Israeli government began implementing changes to travel procedures for U.S. citizens who may now request to enter Israel visa-free for short-term visits up to 90 days for business, tourism, or transit. Under the updated travel policies, Israel has committed to treating U.S. citizens equally, without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity. Israel is finalizing additional updates to its travel procedures to apply to U.S. citizens who are currently or have been residents of Gaza.
Since July 20, thousands of U.S. Citizens have traveled under the new policy, and we continue to receive feedback from U.S. citizens about their experiences. Please see the answers below to the most frequently asked questions, including Israel’s policies applicable to vehicles entering Israel from the West Bank.
Can U.S. Citizens registered as residents of Gaza enter or transit Israel?
Unclear. As it states here (https://govextra.gov.il/cogat/additional-information-english/useful-information/), “By September 15, additional procedures relevant to Gaza Strip residents will be published.” Israel has said it plans to allow travel for Palestinian Americans from Gaza who meet security criteria starting next month. As soon as the new procedures are announced, we will send another message to the U.S. citizen community.
Can U.S. citizens cross into Israel by vehicle from the West Bank?
Separate rules govern vehicle permits. U.S. citizens with a valid entry B2 permit who are passengers of a car, taxi, or bus that is permitted to enter Israel may be requested to exit the vehicle and process through as a pedestrian if attempting to enter Israel at a crossing that has both vehicle and pedestrian access. Otherwise, you will be redirected to a pedestrian crossing. Israel states in its travel policies that a U.S. citizen who is registered as a resident of the West Bank may “cross at any of the pedestrian crossings except Erez.” U.S. citizens may enter Israel via the pedestrian crossings between the West Bank and Israel and not as a driver of a vehicle or a passenger in a vehicle, taxi, or bus. Here is a list of pedestrian crossings.
We will provide updates on any further policy changes by the Israeli government to vehicle travel by U.S. citizens into Israel from the West Bank.
I Received an Entry Permit That Identifies Me as a Palestinian. Why?
Entry permits annotated with “PAL” (vice B2 Stay permits) or B2 permits with PSE as issuer (vice USA) were issued by the Israeli government during the first week of the new procedures. This practice has been discontinued and U.S. citizens should now receive B2 entry permits that identify them as U.S. citizens. If you do not receive a B2 entry permit that identifies you as a U.S. citizen, please contact us at [email protected] (for entry through Allenby and crossings between the West Bank and Israel) or [email protected] (for entry through Ben Gurion or other international crossings into Israel).
Who can I talk to if I am denied entry or experience discrimination?
If you are a U.S. citizen traveling on your U.S. passport and you were denied entry to Israel for a short-term visit up to 90 days (denial of entry does not mean that you were redirected from a vehicle crossing to a pedestrian crossing), or you wish to report your travel experience (even if you were admitted to Israel) you can contact the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem or at the Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv.
- By using the U.S. Embassy Jerusalem and Branch Office Tel Aviv online reporting form.
- By phone (for denial of entry only): U.S. Citizens can call the Embassy at the phone numbers on our website: U.S. Citizen Services - U.S. Embassy in Israel (usembassy.gov) (+972-2-630-4000)
- You may also wish to contact the auditor for the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority at [email protected] to report discrimination at an airport or Port of Entry or you can report discrimination at a checkpoint with the West Bank or Gaza to COGAT: [email protected] or +972-03-6977577
- Fill out AJP Action's Incident Report Form which allows us to track incidents whereby US citizens are being mistreated by the Israeli border police.
Actions to Take:
- All U.S. citizens should enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and ensure you can be located in an emergency.
- Refer to our website for the latest Alerts and Messages for U.S. citizens.
- Refer to our country information sheet for updated information on entry/exit requirements and safety/security information.
U.S. Embassy Jerusalem
14 David Flusser St.
U.S. Embassy Branch Office Tel Aviv
71 HaYarkon St.
State Department – Consular Affairs
Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Country Information
Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Travel Advisory
Enroll in Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security updates