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Visa Waiver Program between the US and Israel to become a reality

The United States and Israel have agreed to sign the Preventing and Combating Serious Crime Agreement (PCSC). This would allow the US to question Israeli authorities regarding fingerprints found at major crime scenes and to determine whether they belong to an Israeli citizen. The US should also be able to retrieve a suspect's legal status.

The agreement is perceived as a stepping stone toward signing a Visa Waiver Program in the near future. Currently, Israeli citizens must undergo a hardous process to apply and receive a visa to the United States. The negotiations between the US and Israel to establish the PCSC agreement would lead to a better relationship between the two nations.

Both countries are expected to sign the agreement in the coming weeks. It is believed that afterwards, Israel would join other countries in the Visa Waiver Program. Instead of having to undergo several questionnaires, interviews and pay multiple fees to get a visa, Israelian citizens would only need to enroll with the ESTA. The Electronic Systeam for Travel Authorization is an automated system created by the US government to determine the eligibility status of citizens from countries that are in the Visa Waiver Program. If Israelis can apply for an ESTA, they will no longer be required to apply for a visa.

Israel and US to sign agreement

Israel to eventually join the Visa Waiver Program

The Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Deputy Attorney General for International Law Dr. Roy Schöndorb visited Washington to discuss the agreement with the American Justice Department. The US has similar agreements with 41 nations including Australia, Japan Germany, and Britain. Such an agreement is thought of a pre-requisite before joining the Visa Waiver Program.

The agreement has met some resitance. Certain people have voiced concerns regarding Israeli citizens right to privacy. However, the agreement specifies that no US agency will have direct access to Israel's information databases. The United States can only request information on specific fingerprints collected in a crime scene. In the past, the absence of technology made it difficult for the Israeli police to provide legal status information about Israeli citizens involved in major crimes.

For a country to qualify and enter the visa waiver program, the rate of people who had a visa declined should not exceed the 3 percent annually. Israel, however, had higher numbers and in 2016 the rate of Israelis who had a visa denied was 4.1 percent. Many young people who are discharged from the IDF tend to apply for a visa and often get the visa rejected.

The coming weeks will be important for both countries.