NOTE: The U.S. Travel Association strongly condemns Hamas’ attacks in Israel and is deeply saddened by the senseless loss of life. As Israel prepares to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, a step that will increase secure travel between our two nations, we are hopeful the situation on the ground will soon allow for the safe and sustained resumption of travel between Israel and the United States.
A new VWP country = big deal.
The addition of any new country into our Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has always been a big deal.
- Prior to Israel’s upcoming participation on November 30, only 40 countries have been admitted to the program, of which 27 are European Schengen Area (open border) members.
- This compares to more than 100 countries whose citizens can enter the UK visa free.
- And in the last 13 years only three countries have been added to VWP: Chile (2014), Poland (2019) and Croatia (2021).
A new member = economic benefits for the U.S.
- Admission into VWP has been proven to spur visitations to—and spending in—the United States. Israel will be no exception.
- Prior to the pandemic, there were 450,000 Israeli arrivals in the U.S.
- Based on prior examples, we are estimating that VWP participation will lead to a “boost” of at least 200,000 additional Israeli visitors each year—within 2-3 years of admission and perhaps sooner—who will directly spend $800 million, creating a total economic impact of $1.8 billion.
There are many reasons to be optimistic that Israel’s VWP admission will meet—or even exceed—these estimates.
- Israel and the U.S. share close cultural, economic and political ties.
- Many Israelis have some family members or close friends in the U.S.
- Israelis generally speak English well, making travel to the U.S. much simpler.
- There are close Jewish cultural/religious ties due to the two countries having the two largest Jewish populations in the world.
- Israelis already travel abroad in huge numbers and enjoy visa free travel to just about anywhere they want to go. Many have avoided the U.S. due to the visa requirement but we expect that to change since they can now visit without that hassle.
An opportunity to level our travel deficit:
Despite strong ties culturally, religiously and politically between the two countries, the U.S. has typically experienced a significant visitor and spending deficit from Israel. This was the case even prior to the pandemic when the U.S. has constantly experienced an overall travel trade surplus.
- While 450,000 Israelis visited the U.S. in 2019, nearly 1 million Americans visited Israel.
- Even though Israelis spend more per visit in the U.S. than Americans spend in Israel, our travel trade balance experienced a deficit of $500 million in 2019.
While Israel’s entry to VWP may not fill the entire visitation gap, its estimated effect on spending—$800 million in additional direct spending—would turn our travel trade deficit with Israel into a surplus.
Flights already added: Within days of the announcement, El Al announced that they are adding a fourth daily flight to JFK starting in June 2024.
- In total, with these additional flights, there will now be more than 100 weekly flights from Tel Aviv to 10 gateways in the U.S., split roughly in half by El Al and U.S. airlines (Delta/American/United).
What else: VWP entry does not only benefit America’s economy at home, but also frees up vital consular resources so consulates and embassies can better serve Americans abroad.
- American citizens living in Israel have long complained of extreme waits for consular services such as registering births or getting passports, but Israel’s VWP entry will hopefully bring needed relief. In fact, embassy officials expect that “a considerable number of staffers will be reassigned from visas (for non-citizens) to American Citizen Services, thus enabling many more appointments to become available."
The bottom line: Israel’s entry to VWP will undoubtedly prove the economic and efficiency benefits that result from participation in the program.