As the Israel-Hamas war intensified, the United States launched a visa waiver program, allowing Israelis wishing to visit the United States for 90 days or less to come without applying for a visa.
The US announced that it was admitting Israel into the visa waiver program, 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.
At the time, the US said Israelis could start traveling to America without visas. In a news release, the Department of Homeland Security said the program was operational as of Thursday.
Under the waiver program, Israelis first register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. That’s an automated system that helps determine whether the person is eligible to travel, Homeland Security said in the news release. The process can take up to 72 hours.
The department said that to be eligible, Israelis must have a biometrically enabled passport. Those who don’t have such a passport still must apply for a US visa,
Countries that want to take part in the visa program have to meet three critical benchmarks. Israel met two of those benchmarks over the past two years: a low percentage of Israelis who applied for visas and were rejected, and a low percentage of Israelis who have overstayed their visas. Israel had struggled to meet the third, for reciprocity, which essentially means all US citizens, including Palestinian Americans, must be treated equally when traveling to or through Israel.
Many critics said that despite American assertions, Palestinian Americans were still facing discrimination when traveling to Israel.