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Israeli Nationals Eligible for Visa Waiver Program Starting Today

Effective immediately, Israeli nationals are now eligible to apply for travel to the U.S. visa-free for business or pleasure under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The effective date for Israeli eligibility to travel under VWP has been moved up from the previously announced date of November 30.

The issue

The Department of Homeland Security has announced that, effective today, Israeli nationals may apply for visa-free business or tourism travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The administration had previously announced that VWP travel for Israeli nationals would take effect by November 30.

Visa Waiver Program generally

The Visa Waiver Program permits citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without first obtaining a B visa. For B-1 business visitors, activities in the United States must conform to certain allowable B-1 business activities.

To travel under the VWP, applicants must apply through the CBP online ESTA application up to 72 hours in advance of travel. ESTA authorizations are generally valid for two years, but foreign nationals must re-apply in certain circumstances, such as obtaining a new passport, a name change, or a change in circumstances that affects eligibility. ESTA authorizations are not a guarantee of admission to the United States; CBP makes an admissibility determination at the port of entry.

What VWP membership means for Israeli nationals and their employers

Today’s announcement means that eligible Israeli business travelers and tourists will be able to avail themselves of the benefits of visa-free travel to the U.S. sooner than previously expected. Advance planning will remain important, however, as ESTA authorization takes at least 72 hours and can extend beyond that timeframe. 

Foreign nationals deemed ineligible for participation in the Visa Waiver Program by ESTA, perhaps due to prior law enforcement or immigration compliance issues, will generally need to apply for a B visa at a U.S. consulate. Israeli travelers with existing B-1/B-2 visas may continue to use those visas for visitor travel to the United States.

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