U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State Accelerate ESTA Eligibility for Israeli Nationals, Effective Immediately

October 20, 2023 | By Shaun Staller

The U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State (DOS) announced in September that the agencies were expanding the list of Visa Waiver Program countries to include Israel, with a projected effective date of November 30, 2023. On October 19th, DHS released an updated statement announcing that it had accelerated the timeline of the VWP designation, effective immediately.

In its most recent announcement, the agencies did not provide a reason for this acceleration but it is reasonable to conclude that it is a direct result of the ongoing conflict in the region. Indeed, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and the satellite branch in Tel Aviv have completely suspended visa services until further notice out of security concerns. Those with canceled appointments will be contacted in the future to reschedule when operations resume. DOS currently has a TRAVEL ADVISORY LEVEL 3 (Reconsider Travel) in place for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

The VWP is a mutual designation system under which countries permit reciprocal visa-free travel with the U.S. Eligibility is primarily based on whether the applicant holds a passport from the designated country and is not determined with regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity. Prior immigration violations or other law enforcement history could render an applicant ineligible. Importantly, a biometrically-enabled passport is required to participate.

VWP designation undoubtedly facilitates travel for eligible citizens as they no longer have to go through the usually prolonged and tedious process of securing a B visitor visa through a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad. Instead, intending applicants submit a brief online application for Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  Most applicants are successful and are notified of approval digitally within a matter of days.  Entry into the U.S. under ESTA permits stays for business or tourism purposes for up to 90 days. Critically, take heed that “business purposes” definitively does not include activities constituting gainful employment, even if you are working for a foreign-based country remotely for pay. This is a nuanced area for which you should consult with your Obermayer immigration attorney.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys. 

About the Authors

Shaun Staller


Shaun is a business immigration attorney with broad international experience who counsels individuals and businesses across all industries in navigating the complex U.S. immigration system. He focuses his practice on employment-based visas...

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