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Israel set to join 38 countries in US visa-waiver scheme

According to a US State Department official, consular officers can now demand extra information from applicants they deem to require "more rigorous national security vetting"
AFP/File
Israeli Justice Minister is seeking a balance between protecting Israeli privacy and meeting US requirements.

Israel is on the verge of completing a visa waiver agreement with the US, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced this morning, in a long-awaited deal that will permit it to join 38 other countries already benefiting from visa-less visits to the region.

Shaked was unable to provide any concrete details but it appears that the minister is attempting to address a number of complicated privacy hurdles in an effort to meet American State Department requirements whilst simultaneously respecting the complexities of Israeli law.

“We are finalizing a deal to cancel the visas,” Shaked tweeted. “Ever since I took up the post we have been working with the Americans to join the group of select countries whose citizens are exempt from obtaining an entry visa to the USA. We found the balance between protecting the privacy of Israeli citizens and the demands of the Americans.”

GALI TIBBON  (AFP/File)

The visa-waiver program or commonly referred to as ESTA, permits citizens of specific countries, to travel to the US for tourism, business or during transit for 90 days without having to go through the lengthy process of obtaining a visa. Those in the visa waiver “in-group” are largely, viewed as the high-income economies.

Pro-Israel groups have been lobbying for Israel’s entry into the program, that will boost trade relations.

The first area of concern is with regards to fingerprint records. Under the current Israeli Biometric Database Law there is restrictions on transferring sensitive personal information to foreign authorities, unless in the case of a criminal examination. An amendment to current legislation is required, which according to Globes, could take at least two years.

The second issue pertains to Israeli visa refusals which must be maintained under 3%. In recent years they exceeded this. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Monday that her ministry was “acting on various levels to reduce the number of Israelis who are refused visas to the US” and is set to meet with the US Consulate General in Jerusalem for further talks.

"Within the next few days, Israel should complete the final paperwork, and in two weeks' time Shaked will pay a visit to the US", wrote a statement published on Shaked’s behalf.

This of course, is pending the ability to overcome issues relating to the privacy infringement of Israeli citizens.

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