U.S. says Israelis welcome to visit

The State Department is working to make tourist visas available for as many Israelis as possible, especially young people, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said.

“Although two-thirds of young Israeli applicants receive visas, some people have a misconception that young Israelis are not welcome in the United States,” Shapiro wrote April 20 on his Facebook page.

“This is certainly not the case. Israel is one of our closest allies, and we welcome all opportunities to foster ties between Israelis and Americans, including visits to the United States,” he wrote.

Shapiro said placing Israel in the U.S. visa waiver program, which would exempt Israeli citizens from having to get tourist visas, is a goal shared by both countries. The program would also allow Israeli visitors to stay in the United States for up to 90 days.

Two major obstacles have kept Israel from joining the program: Allegations by U.S. officials that Israel has discriminated against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry, and a proliferation of young Israelis traveling to the United States as tourists and then staying to work illegally. Haaretz reported April 22 that Israel is willing to treat Palestinian-Americans wishing to enter Israel the same as other Americans if Israel is allowed to join the visa waiver program. — jta