By Julian Pecquet
Israelis would no longer need a visa to visit the United States for tourism or business purposes under legislation introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) just before the House recessed on Friday.
The bill would add Israel to the list of 36 European and Asian nations that don't require visas for stays of up to 90 days. The bipartisan bill has the support of powerful House Republicans, including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
"Israel is our closest friend and democratic ally in the Middle East," Sherman said in a statement. "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 Israeli embassy in Washington also endorsed the bill.
"This act would stimulate numerous business endeavors, and help promote closer cultural, economic, and touristic ties," the embassy said in a statement. "The passage of this legislation would further strengthen the special and deep relationship between Israel and the United States."
According to Sherman's office, 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.
Israel has been in discussions with the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security to join the Visa Waiver Program since 2005. Almost a third of a million Israelis have to jump through hoops to get a visa every year.