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U.S. Implies Israeli Tourists May be Spies as Espionage Concerns are Raised in Visa Debate.

By Israel Hayom &

The U.S. intelligence community is worried that allowing Israelis to enter the U.S. without visas would allow more Israeli spies in, according to a Roll Call report published last week.

Until now, the report said, Israel's ineligibility for the U.S. visa waiver program was largely because it did not meet "specific requirements for inclusion, including a rate of refusal for Israelis seeking U.S. visas no higher than 3% and reciprocal courtesies for U.S. citizens visiting Israel." A State Department spokeswoman recently cited alleged discrimination against Arab Americans entering Israel.

Now, U.S. officials have a raised a new issue with adding Israel to the list of 38 nations who can enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. "The U.S. intelligence community is concerned that adding Israel to the Visa Waiver program would make it easier for Israeli spies to enter the country," a senior House of Representatives aide said in the report.

The concerns were raised by members of the U.S. intelligence community, including officials in the Homeland Security department, during a classified briefing at the House Judiciary Committee, Roll Call reported.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently instructed his department to look into adding Israel to the visa waiver program "quickly and comprehensively," after Representative Nita Lowey and other congressmen inquired about the rising number of refusals for young Israelis seeking visas.

In response to the inquiry, Kerry's assistant secretary for legislative affairs Julia Frifield sent Lowey a letter stating that Kerry "has directed the Department to take a range of immediate actions to ensure that, consistent with U.S. immigration law, we make every effort to maximize the number of young Israelis able to travel to the United States."

The letter, first published on Al-Monitor, largely focused on the significant rise in rates of refusal for young Israelis seeking U.S. visas. In the letter, it is cited that where as in 2009 16% of Israelis ages 21-26 were denied entry, that number jumped to 32% in 2013. The State Department stated that in its initial review "there have been increased rates of overstays and illegal employment, particularly for young Israeli visa holders, and that these trends have been observed for a number of years.

"We know that despite a two-thirds approval rate, this increase has led to a perception by some that young Israelis are unwelcome to travel to the United States," Frifield wrote. "Clearly that is not the case. Israel is one of our closest friends and allies, and we welcome interchange between Israelis and Americans in every manner, including travel by Israelis to the United States. The department can and will do more to encourage and assist qualified Israelis to visit the United States."

Frifield stated in the letter that the U.S. and Israel are forming a working group, including members of the Homeland Security Department, to help Israel progress towards being eligible for the visa waiver program.

"This is a goal of both the United States and Israel, and it would make travel easier for citizens of both countries," Frifield wrote. "I am pleased Embassy Tel Aviv and the State Department will undertake this full review of visa policies and have committed to making it easier -- not more difficult -- for young Israelis to travel to the United States," Lowey said in response to Frifield's letter.

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro addressed the US visa crisis for the first time late Saturday night, stressing that the White House is working diligently to increase the number of visa applications accepted for young Israeli tourists.

"In a letter to members of Congress this week, the State Department announced the decision of the Secretary of State, John Kerry, to ensure that the department will take immediate steps to increase the number of young Israelis that can travel to the US according to our immigration laws," Shapiro wrote, in a Facebook post.

Shapiro first summarized the issue. "The law dictates that applicants must prove that they intend to return to Israel in making the request, and that the visa does not allow recipients to stay beyond the designated time period or to work legally in the US," he said. "But we are aware of the fact that although two-thirds of young applicants receive visas, some people harbor a misconception that young Israelis are not welcome in the USA."

"Surely that's not true," he continued. "Israel is one of the US's closest allies, and we welcome all networking between Israelis and Americans, including visits to the United States." As such, he said, the US "will do as much as possible to encourage Israelis are eligible to visit the US for travel," including opening an internal investigation of the visa process and educating Israelis more about the visa application process.
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Publication:Israel Faxx
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Apr 21, 2014
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