In a joint announcement today, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken officially welcomed Israel into the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) visa waiver program, expanding the list of visa-exempt countries to 40.
However, Israeli citizens will still be required to obtain entry visas for the United States in the near future, as the process of adding a new country to the visa waiver program takes time. The United States is expected to announce the precise date when Israelis can start utilizing the ESTA system by the end of November.
The ESTA Process for Israel
Once the system becomes operational for Israeli citizens, they will have the convenience of applying for entry into the United States online. These applications are expected to be approved within 72 hours and will cost $21 per application. Approved authorizations will be valid for two years, allowing multiple trips within that period.
While Israel’s inclusion in the ESTA program marks a significant milestone, it’s crucial to note that this convenience is currently extended exclusively to Israeli citizens possessing biometric passports with a 10-year validity. Those without biometric passports meeting these criteria will still need to apply for U.S. visas through the U.S. embassies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Under ESTA, travelers from Israel who qualify can stay in the United States for a maximum of 90 days per visit. However, there are important restrictions to be aware of. Travelers utilizing ESTA will not have the option to extend their stay beyond the 90-day limit or change their visa category, such as switching from a tourist visa to a student visa. Those planning to enter the U.S. for extended periods for purposes such as education, employment, or exchange programs will still need to undergo the standard visa application process to obtain the appropriate visa category.
As such, while ESTA simplifies short-term visits for Israeli citizens with eligible passports, those with longer-term plans or specific visa needs should be prepared to apply for the appropriate U.S. visa through the established embassy channels.