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Biden administration announces visa-free travel for Israelis

By Alex Marquardt, CNN

(CNN) — Israel will be joining the US Visa Waiver Program, allowing Israeli citizens to soon enter the United States without a visa and vice versa, the Biden administration has announced.

Israeli citizens will be expected to be able to enter the US visa-free by November 30, an official said. Under the program, they can stay for up to 90 days.

The VWP is managed by the Department of Homeland Security and includes 40 countries. Israel’s admission, which was expected before a September 30 deadline, had hinged on its treatment of Palestinian-Americans. Though officials say those issues have been settled, earlier this month, a group of 15 Democratic senators urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to not nominate Israel to the program based on how Palestinian-Americans are still being treated when they travel to Israel.

“Israel’s designation into the Visa Waiver Program helps the United States and Israel meet key national security goals, including through the enhanced Israeli cooperation with the US on counterterrorism law enforcement, immigration enforcement, document security and border management,” an administration official said on a briefing call with reporters.

“This important achievement will enhance freedom of movement for US citizens, including those living in the Palestinian Territories or traveling to and from them,” Blinken said in a statement.

A key component to the VWP is reciprocity, something an administration official said is “particularly important” in the case of Israel “given the history of disparate travel experiences facing US citizens going to and from Israel.”

The officials said that during an extensive observation period prior to the announcement, data showed that Palestinian-Americans “who had historically faced restrictions traveling to Israel were able to seek to travel visa-free on equivalent terms to other US citizens.”

Asked about the senators’ letter, which states that “it is clear that Israel is not in compliance,” the administration officials responded that Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “came to a different conclusion.”

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