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Dispersing Knesset likely to delay visa waiver for Israelis visiting US

As the government moves forward with plans to dissolve the Knesset, a senior official in the US embassy warns that the move will likely cause a delay in efforts to add Israel into the US Visa Waiver Program.

One of the steps needed to ensure entry into the WVP is the passing of legislation granting the US limited access to the participating country’s criminal records — a measure that won’t be possible to fulfill once the Knesset disperses itself for an election campaign.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides have expressed hope that Israel would be able to join the WVP by the end of the year or by early 2023, but that is now looking far less likely.

Another essential step required for entry is lowering the visa application rejection rate to below three percent by the end of the fiscal year in September. Israel’s rejection rate last year stood at roughly 4.5% due largely to mistakes applicants made in filling out their visa forms, the senior US embassy official says in a briefing with reporters.

The official says that the US has noted improvements in rejection rates following a public campaign launched by the Israeli government urging Israelis to carefully fill out their forms and follow up with the embassy if they are notified of errors in their applications.

“But it is still too early to bet whether Israel will indeed fall below 3% refusal rate,” the embassy official says, adding that it takes time for the US to gather the final figures.

While Shaked had suggested in the past that the September deadline provided Israel with enough time to complete the process by the end of the year, it will still take several months after the end of the fiscal year for the US to adjudicate the new visa rejection rate, and it won’t likely be available until the spring of 2023.

If Israel fails to drop its rejection rate below three percent this year, it will have to wait another year to to apply for entry into the VWP.

There has been a significant backlog at the US embassy that has led to Israelis waiting as long as a year in order to secure an interview required to apply for a visa.

The official says some of this is due to the fact that some people are requesting interviews even though they could complete the process online, adding that the pandemic also slowed down the process significantly.