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DHS Adds Israel to List of Eligible Countries for Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

On September 26, 2023, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it designated Israel as country eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). 

The VWP is operated by the DHS and the State Department. The VWP permits citizens from 41 designated countries to travel to the United States – without a visa – for business or tourism purposes for up to 90 days. The U.S. allows noncitizens to visit without a visa on one main condition: that those countries do the same for U.S. citizens traveling for business or tourism. According to DHS, this reciprocal program has evolved the VWP into “a comprehensive security partnership with many of America’s closest allies.” The VWP promotes secure travel between the U.S. and partner countries.

Requirements for VWP Travelers

Noncitizens must meet four essential requirements to use VWP to travel to the U.S. First, the noncitizen must be a citizen or national of a VWP Designated Country. Currently, DHS has 41 designated VWP countries. There are several requirements for a country to be eligible for the VWP. The goal of these requirements is to ensure that VWP designated countries have a high level of security standards. DHS assesses each country’s counterterrorism, law enforcement, immigration enforcement, passport security, and border management efforts. Once designated, DHS continuously monitors all VWP countries to protect the security of the U.S.

Second, a noncitizen must be traveling to the U.S. for a permitted visitor purpose. This includes traveling to the U.S. for business activities or tourism. In addition, traveling to the U.S. for the purpose of traveling to other countries is generally permitted for VWP travelers.

Third, a noncitizen VWP traveler must have authorization to travel through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The ESTA is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine if a noncitizen is eligible to travel under the VWP. This ensures that travel authorizations are not issued to noncitizens who pose a threat to U.S. national security. A VWP traveler must receive a valid ESTA before he or she leaves for the U.S. However, it is important to note that having a valid ESTA does not guarantee entry into the U.S. under VWP. All port-of-entry officials have the authority to deny admission to the U.S. 

Finally, a VWP traveler must have a valid passport. The passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months after the noncitizen’s date of departure from the U.S. The passport also needs to be an e-passport that has an embedded electronic chip. The electronic chip allows the passport to be scanned to match the identity of the traveler to the passport. 

Israel Now Eligible for VWP

DHS recently designated Israel as a VWP eligible country, making it the 41st member country of the program. As of October 19, 2023, Israeli citizens can now apply to travel to the United States, without a visa, for up to 90 days for business or tourism purposes. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Israeli citizens traveling to the U.S. under the VWP must:

  • Have a ticket departing the United States within 90 days of arrival, and 
  • a proper passport that is biometrically enabled.

Once an Israeli VWP traveler is in the United States, he or she may only stay for 90 days. VWP travelers cannot extend their stay beyond 90 days, and cannot change their status while in the U.S.

If Israeli Citizens plan to stay in the U.S. for longer than 90 days, they must apply for a visa rather than use the VWP. If Israeli Citizens already have a valid B1 or B2 visa, they may continue to use those visas to travel to the U.S. until they expire. 

For more information about the VWP, please contact our office today to schedule a consultation!