Jewish Journal

Sherman’s US Visa Waiver for Israel Endangered by High Rejection Rate of Israeli Non-Immigrants

by Pini Herman

February 14, 2013 | 2:10 pm

Many Israelis experience rejection by U.S. consular officers in Tel Aviv when applying for non-immigrant visas to the U.S. In 2010, 6.4 percent of the over 140 thousand Israeli U.S. non-immigrant visa applicants, approximately 8,000 Israelis were refused a visitors visa in 2010 .

This high rejection rate of Israelis wanting to visit the U.S. is preventing the passage of the newly re-elected Brad Sherman's first bill introduced, House Resolution 300 or the Visa Waiver for Israel Act of 2013. The House of Representatives has previously passed a bill accepting Israel into the program but it was struck down quickly in the Senate because it did meet the criteria for designation as program countries are specified in the Immigration and Nationality Act whose criteria stress passport security and a very low nonimmigrant visa refusal rate: not more than 3%.  (Brad Sherman's reply to this blog).

One may think that the high visa refusal rate to Israelis is an outcome of the rejection of Arab or Muslim applicants and likely that is not the case as the U.S. is likely not a major destination for these tourist and business travelers. A likely cause of the high refusal rate may stem from an unwritten policy of rejecting ultra-Orthodox who may apply in large family groups where the male is engaged in full-time Torah study and the breadwinner may be the wife.

This scenario was described on a Jewish Journal blog, since removed, by a former U.S. diplomatic consular officer in a recent Jewish Journal blog where he bragged about the development and enforcement of this policy at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. The former diplomat wrote:

During my diplomatic tour in Tel Aviv, I denied a tourist visa to every single able-bodied Haredi man whose “job” was studying Torah and Talmud. “

Secular Israelis also face the trauma of what may seem like arbitrary rejection.  I witnessed the tear-filled scene at a relative’s house in Jerusalem when their 20 year-old daughter, who had just completed her service in the Israeli army, happened to return home from a long day waiting at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv where she was refused a tourist visa by a consular officer who was convinced that she really wanted to emigrate to the U.S. rather than that she wanted to take a trip she'd been looking forward to and saving up for before she started work and higher education.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Israel actually has half the out-migration rate of native-borns than the average rate of other comparable countries. It could be that the outrageous behavior by the US Consular diplomatic officer described above and other like-minded diplomats could be describing an aspect of the culture of the visa granting operation in the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, may be why the Israeli native out-migration rate is so low.  What is clear, the Visa Waiver Program for Israel is in danger from this pattern of behavior by U.S. State Department Employees.

My opinion is that Israelis have a low out-migration rate because they choose to remain in Israel. Many Israelis have passports other than their Israeli passports, but do not utilize them.  Israelis seem to just collect them, in case.  Perhaps, they perceive, just a bit more discrimination at the US Embassy in Israel than do the applicants in 37 other countries of the world.  

Read Brad Sherman's reply to this blog.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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