Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the Visa Waiver for Israel Act, a bill allowing Israel's entrance into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) and the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), joined with Sherman to introduce the Visa Waiver for Israel Act.
The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from certain countries to enter the U.S. as temporary visitors for tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad.
"I'm pleased to join with my colleagues Ted Poe, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and eleven additional members of Congress to introduce the Visa Waiver for Israel Act," said Sherman. "Israel is our closest friend and democratic ally in the Middle East. Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will boost business, tourism, and job creation here in the U.S. and enhance cultural ties between our two nations."
The Embassy of Israel released a statement in support of the legislation, "The Embassy of Israel welcomes the introduction of the Visa Waiver for Israel Act, initiated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) with the support of lead co-sponsor Rep. Ted Poe (R -- TX). This act would stimulate numerous business endeavors, and help promote closer cultural, economic, and touristic ties. The passage of this legislation would further strengthen the special and deep relationship between Israel and the United States."
There are 36 countries currently in the Visa Waiver Program, including western and central European countries, as well as South Korea, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2010, 17.1 million visitors entered the United States under the Visa Waiver program, constituting 42% of all overseas visitors. Israel is one of the "road map countries" which are most interested in joining the Visa Waiver Program and have been in discussions with the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to join the program since 2005.
"Almost one-third of a million Israelis entered the U.S. as temporary visitors annually in recent years," continued Sherman. "Each had to get a US visa through a bureaucratic process that sometimes takes weeks. The number of Israeli visitors would increase substantial if Israel enters the Visa Waiver Program. That means more business, tourism, academic and cultural exchanges, and most importantly, job creation. This is an important way to further strengthen ties with our close friend and ally in the Middle East -- Israel."
The legislation contains counter-terrorism and information sharing provisions, and would ensure that Israel adopts biometric travel documents prior to being admitted to the program.
In addition to Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Sherman and Poe were joined by Representatives Charles Rangel, Edolphus Towns, Steve Rothman, Bill Pascrell, Shelley Berkley, Eliot Engel, Michael Grimm, Mazie Hirono, Rush Holt, Aaron Schock, and Robert Dold in introducing the bill.