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For science and U.S. jobs: Allow Israelis to visit America visa-free

by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

January 15, 2013 | 9:49 am

The majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Still, for good reasons, many in Jewish and pro-Israel communities are deeply anxious about both the security of Israel and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon and maintaining U.S. support for Israel in a chaotic and dangerous Middle East will remain pillars of the pro-Israel movement.  Nonetheless, there are other goals the community should pursue that will help truly deepen our nations’ ties, promote medical solutions and help boost much-needed economic growth in America.

American–Israel cooperation in high-tech sectors, including biotechnology and medical research, green energy, defense, homeland security, and information technology have spurred countless vital joint business and research endeavors.  Too often, however, Israeli entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists have to wait for several months to get a visa to visit America.  Conferences and meetings in the medical community and private sector to promote joint innovations and ventures are made unnecessarily difficult.

Israel is currently not included from the 37 countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe as well as Australia and several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.  Most recently, Taiwan was admitted to the program in 2012.  The citizens of these countries can visit the United States for business, tourism, or seeing friends and family for up to 90 days without a visa.  Israelis with passports can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are spearheading a new bill in the House of Representatives to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.  In a remarkable sign of support, over 30 Representatives, including many senior members, join with Sherman and Poe in introducing the legislation this week.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is introducing the same legislation in the Senate.

Congressman Sherman introduced this bill in the House last year with 13 members including lead cosponsor Congressman Poe.  34 Members cosponsored Sherman’s bill, which brought much-needed attention to this important issue.  Sherman, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, is now spearheading an even bigger coalition on Capitol Hill to move this bill through the new 113th Congress.

There are many indicators of how breaking barriers between Israelis and Americans would enhance an already vibrant scientific and economic relationship. With a disproportionately huge number of per capita scientific papers, patents filed, and startup companies in Israel compared to the world, there is great potential for increased U.S-Israeli business initiatives to the benefit of both nations.

With increased collaborations in finding ways to stop things like Alzheimer’s, Autism and other health issues, more close contact can only mean progress on the human level. This is vital as today another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and that number will only double as the baby boomers get older.

Moreover, the CDC says that 1 out of 88 American children have Autism. Jews need to take a special interest in that area as there is a link between the age of the father and the likelihood of a child having Autism. Jews wait longer to have children than any other demographic group in America. In the waiting rooms of the top medical experts for Autism, there is a minyan of Jewish mothers waiting for help for their children.
 
The Israeli life sciences and biotechnology industry is growing at an astonishing rate.  A nation of 7 million, Israel has about 1,000 life science companies, hundreds of them formed within the past few years.

The Jewish state’s highly educated and savvy entrepreneurs have invested in American jobs and growth. The Israeli private sector has invested well over $50 billion in the United States since 2000.  Israeli Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States was $7.2 billion in 2010 alone.

During an April 2012 trip to Israel, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promoted U.S.-Israeli business and signed a letter of cooperation with Teva, one of the largest, most cutting-edge pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies in the world.  Teva has hundreds of employees in New Jersey and has been offered financial incentives by that state to build more facilities and add to job growth.

It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway to make its first-ever foreign acquisition in Israel and declare that, “Israel… has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  Berkshire Hathaway purchased 80% of Iscar, an Israeli maker of precision blades and drills, in 2006.

It’s time for the U.S. to let Israeli entrepreneurs and travelers to visit our country freely.

The increased travel of Israelis to the U.S. would also help America’s tourism sector. Trips to the U.S. by Israelis totaled nearly 320,000 annually the past three years.  In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in travel and airfare to the United States.  If Israel enters the program, closer to half a million Israelis are expected to travel to the United States per year.

With 7.8% unemployment and tepid GDP growth in the U.S., we can benefit financially from the innovation resulting from greater American-Israeli science and technology cooperation and business – as well as boosting our tourism and domestic travel sectors.

The Jewish and pro-Israel community should join with U.S. business leaders and representatives of information technology, biotechnology, medical research, defense, and other high-tech industries in backing the passage of theVisa Waiver for Israel Act into law this year.


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of www.LaszloStrategies.com and the Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

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