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Israel to Fight for U.S. Visa Exemption.

By Ha'aretz

Israel has launched a diplomatic offensive to persuade the United States to exempt Israelis from requiring a visa to enter the country. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom raised the issue with Secretary of State Colin Powell two weeks ago and has ordered the ministry's North America desk to prepare a plan of action. Powell advised Shalom to exploit Israel's good

relations with Congress in the case.

Shalom's initiative follows new regulations that became effective on Tuesday, making it much harder to obtain a visa. Under the new rules, prompted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and subsequent fierce domestic criticism of America's visa procedures, all Israelis between the ages of 16 and 60 must have a personal interview with an American official before getting a visa.

This is expected to create huge delays - travel agents predict up to several months - since the embassy has received no extra funding and hired no additional staff to carry out this task. Applications can no longer be made directly to

the embassy or consulate but must be handled by a registered travel agent. The agent not only provides the forms and submits them to the embassy, but it is the agent rather than the applicant whom the embassy informs of the

applicant's interview date. When the applicant arrives for the interview, he will have to leave his passport with the embassy until it reaches a decision on the application, and at some point in the future, fingerprinting will

also be required.

Contrary to popular myth, the U.S. is not strict about issuing visas to Israelis because it fears their staying on in the country illegally. According to the most recent report of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, of about one million people picked up for visa violations in the year after 9/11, only 350 were Israelis, although 316,000

Israelis entered the country legally that year, including tourists, businessmen, students, legal workers and government officials. About 4,000 Israelis get green cards for permanent residence every year, half of them after marrying Americans.

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Publication:Israel Faxx
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jul 3, 2003
Words:345
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