Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) lauded Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for introducing the Visa Waiver for Israel Act, S. 266, in the Senate on February 7, 2013. The bill would pave the way for Israel's entrance into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The Senate legislation follows the introduction of the House version of the bill, H.R. 300, introduced on January 15, 2013, by Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) with lead co-sponsor Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX). 66 Representatives are currently cosponsoring the House bill.
"Israel is an important trading partner and ally with a well-educated and versatile workforce," Senator Wyden said. "Including Israel in the Visa Waiver program will open up opportunities for collaboration and investment that will benefit both countries." Senator Wyden is the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Senator Hatch is the most senior Republican in the Senate and is a senior member and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Visa Waiver for Israel Act was referred to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
"I commend Senator Wyden and Senator Hatch for introducing the Visa Waiver for Israel Act in the Senate," said Sherman. "The widely bipartisan, bicameral support for this bill demonstrates the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the positive prospects for this bill's passage into law. Adding Israel to the Visa Waiver Program will stimulate innovation and growth in our economy and greatly enhance cultural ties between our nations."
The Senate bill is nearly identical to the Visa Waiver for Israel Act in May 2012 along with lead cosponsor Ted Poe and 11 other colleagues; 34 members of Congress cosponsored Sherman's bill in 2012.
The Visa Waiver Program allows travelers from 37 countries to enter the United States for business or leisure as visitors for up to 90 days without first getting a visa. Visitors from other countries must obtain a visa from U.S. consular posts before traveling to the United States.
The Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, Daniel Ayalon, released the following statement about the Visa Waiver for Israel Act:
"The proposed waiving of the visa requirement for Israeli tourists visiting America is a true reflection of the special, deep and mutually advantageous relations between Israel and the U.S. and between the Israeli and American peoples, and reports of the legislative initiative were received with great warmth in Israel. I strongly commend Congressmen Brad Sherman and Ted Poe for all their efforts and also the many representatives that have co-sponsored the Visa Waiver for Israel Act."
Israelis entered the U.S. as temporary visitors about 320,000 times annually in recent years and that number is expected to increase significantly if Israel enters the program. In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in U.S. tourism, travel, and airfare.