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Record number of Israelis receiving US visas, lengthy wait times persist

A record number of Israeli citizens received non-immigrant visas for the United States in 2018, according to figures published by the US State Department, but visa appointment wait times for tourists remain significantly longer than in many other countries.

Non-immigrant visas were issued to 186,461 Israelis during 2018, the eighth highest number worldwide. The figures mark a major increase since as recently as 2014, when 130,229 Israelis were granted visas. Israelis are not eligible for visa-free entry into the US under the Visa Waiver Program, which is currently available to citizens of 38 countries and territories worldwide.

The highest number of visas issued last year by the State Department’s Consular Affairs Bureau was to Chinese citizens (1.46 million), followed by Mexican nationals (1.37m.) and Indian citizens (1m.).

According to data gathered by Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, appointment wait times for citizens applying for tourist visas for the US can be significantly longer in Israel than in many other countries.

On Thursday, appointment wait times for prospective tourists seeking B-2 visas, valid for up to 10 years, at the US Branch Office in Tel Aviv stood at 44 calendar days. For student/exchange visitor visas and all other non-immigrant visas, appointment wait times were four calendar days.

Appointment wait times in Jerusalem, however, stood at 15 calendar days, with student/exchange and other non-immigrant visa applications requiring just one calendar day wait time.

Significantly shorter wait times were forecast in Athens (nine days), Warsaw and Tokyo (one day). Hopeful visitors from Moscow ought to plan in advance, however, with current appointment wait times recorded at a staggering 300 calendar days.

“The premise that there is a link between the United States president’s identity and the Israeli visa-granting policy turns out to be false,” said Adv. Tsvi Kan-Tor, chair of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce’s Visas Committee.

“The only obvious conclusion from the data is that there has been an increase in demand for the United States as a tourist destination, and the financial purchasing power of Israelis that enables it. In fact, there has been no relief over the years regarding the threshold conditions for granting visas and the considerations of the local consul in Israel examining the applications.”

The long waiting time, Kan-Tor said, is partly explained by the ratio between the number of visa requests sent to the consulates and staff available to handle them.

In some cases, repeat Israeli applicants and first-time applicants under age 14 or 80 or older, may be eligible to apply through the US Embassy’s Interview Waiver (IW) program. Applications may take up to three weeks for processing, the embassy says.

Since May, Israelis wishing to invest significant funds or set up a business in the United States have been eligible to receive an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa. The E-2 visa allows a national of a treaty country, currently more than 80 states, to enter the US when investing a substantial amount of capital in an American-based business.

A necessary condition of enabling the E-2 visa for all treaty countries is reciprocity, with US citizens able to obtain a B-5 Israel Investor Visa.

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