Nearly one out of every ten Israelis who apply for tourist visas to the United States are denied entry by the U.S. State Department. According to figures posted in Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, in 2013 year of the 125,000 Israelis requested tourist visas to the US, 9.7% were refused. In 2012 that figure was at 5.4%, and as recently as 2007, a mere 2.5% of the requests were denied.
Most of the denials are young Israelis, as it is common for Israelis to travel after completing their compulsory military service:
The report in Haaretz quotes an unnamed Israeli official saying that the rise in visa rejections probably stems from U.S. reluctance to allow Israel entry into the Visa Waiver Program. That policy allows travelers from 37 countries to enter the U.S. for business or leisure as visitors for up to 90 days without a visa. The U.S. has a ‘white list’ of countries whose citizens can come to the U.S. without a visa, but only countries with a visa rejection rate of less than 3% are put on this list. The recent growth in U.S. visa request rejections for Israelis forced Israel off that list.
The official said, “We have for years been waiting to drop below the 3 percent mark in order to obtain visa exemptions, but they keep raising the bar … In our view, this is being done artificially, with requests being denied for no good reason. In all other respects, we qualify for the program.”
The denial numbers have grown so dramatically that Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week demanding an end to the “State Department policy of categorically denying young Israelis tourist visas that makes it nearly impossible for any young Israeli to visit the U.S.” Schumer wrote:
This arbitrary practice of categorically denying visas to all would-be young travelers due to the actions of a few bad apples is unjustified and counterproductive for the U.S. economy and should end immediately. Let’s punish the wrongdoers instead of making it impossible for young Israelis to come see our beautiful sites, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and support all the jobs related to those activities. It makes no sense to deny tourist visas to all young Israelis simply because of the actions of a few.