The US has launched a visa waiver program to facilitate the arrival of Israelis trapped in conflict into the country. With growing tensions in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, the US is allowing Israelis wishing to enter the country for 90 days or less to do so without applying for a visa. A news release from the Department of Homeland Security said the program was operational as of October 19.
Visa-free programs, also known as visa waiver programs, allow citizens of certain countries to travel to other countries for tourism, business, or other short-term purposes without the need for a visa. These programs are typically based on bilateral agreements between countries or regions and are designed to promote tourism, trade, and international relations. The US announced that it was admitting Israel into the visa waiver program on September 27, adding the country to a select group of 40 mostly European and Asian countries whose citizens can travel to the US for three months without visas.
Under the waiver program, Israelis need to apply with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an automated system that helps determine if the person is eligible to travel, Homeland Security said. The process can take up to 72 hours. To be eligible, Israelis must provide a biometrically enabled passport. Those who don’t have such a passport still must apply for a US visa, the department said.
“Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program represents a critical step forward in our strategic partnership with Israel that will further strengthen long-standing people-to-people engagement, economic cooperation, and security coordination between our two countries,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on September 27.
A few days after Israel’s inclusion to the visa waiver program on October 19, Hamas launched attacks against numerous locations in southern Israel, AP reported. It was followed by relentless Israeli attacks against locations in the Gaza Strip as its military prepares for a ground invasion.
Yesterday, Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the US expects the Israel-Hamas war to escalate through involvement by proxies of Iran, and they ensured the Biden administration is ready to respond if American personnel or armed forces become the target of any such hostilities.