Sep 26, 2023 - World

Blinken recommends allowing Israel to join U.S. visa waiver program, sources say

Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press briefing at the U.S. State Department headquarters building in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken in recent days signed a letter recommending that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas allow Israel to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, according to two sources briefed on the issue.

Why it matters: While Blinken's letter is largely a technical procedure, it is needed in order for Mayorkas to make a final decision on whether Israel can join the program, which allows a country's citizens to travel to the U.S. for 90 days without first obtaining a visa. The deadline for the decision is Sept. 30.

Catch up quick: The U.S. and Israel in mid-July signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) setting the conditions for Israel's entry into the program.

  • Israel has for years wanted to join the program but the U.S. has expressed concerns over the restrictions Palestinian Americans from the occupied West Bank faced on entering Israel.
  • Since signing the MOU, Israel has been going through a pilot program during which the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have been reviewing and scrutinizing the implementation of the new regulations toward Palestinian and Arab Americans by the Israeli authorities.

Behind the scenes: In his letter, Blinken made clear that Israel has met the criteria for entering the visa waiver program, the two sources said.

What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson said no final decision on Israel's visa waiver program candidacy has been made.

  • "The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, will make a determination in the coming days," the spokesperson added.

What's next: Israeli and U.S. officials say they expect Mayorkas to announce the U.S. decision on Thursday.

What to watch: If the Biden administration admits Israel into the program, it's likely to face some pushback from Palestinians and some Democrats.

  • A group of Senate Democrats in a letter to Blinken earlier this month urged him not to rush the decision.

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