The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued updated Visa Waiver Program guidance for Hungary, Israel and Cuba.
The Visa Waiver Program allows individuals from certain countries to enter the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without the need to obtain a visa. Foreign nationals entering under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for approval via ESTA, and approval is usually granted within a few minutes.
Due to Department of State concerns about what they view as a lax naturalization process and passport fraud in Hungary, and amid Russian espionage fears in the West, the United States is restricting visa waivers for Hungarian nationals. Hungarians will now only be allowed to enter the U.S.A. once in a single year on an ESTA visa waiver. This is unlike the typical ESTA visa waiver which allows travelers multiple visits to the United States over a two-year period with no need to apply again.
Israel has been requesting entry into the Visa Waiver Program for more than a decade and that may become a reality very soon. In the past, Israel was unable to meet two threshold requirements for joining the Program; having a visa refusal rate under 3%, and not restricting the movements of Palestinian-Americans traveling in Israel. Both circumstances have changed.
Israel’s visa refusal rate has now dropped below 3%.
Recently, Israel announced changes to its short-term entry and transit through the country travel requirements.
The updated travel policies will allow U.S. citizens, without regard to national origin, dual nationality, ethnicity, or religion, including Palestinian Americans on the Palestinian population registry, to travel to and from Israel via all ports of entry, including Ben Gurion Airport.U.S. Embassy in Israel
In commenting on reciprocal visa acceptance for U.S. and Israeli citizens, DHS indicated that Israel will be accepted into the waiver program, assuming it continues to comply with these requirements.
Cubans remain ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program due to Cuba’s designated status, as of January 2021, as a state sponsor of terrorism. Practically speaking, this means that any individual who has been present in Cuba on or after January 2021 is ineligible for the ESTA visa waiver. However, DHS only recently included this update in ESTA, meaning that visa approvals granted to Cubans since January 2021 may be revoked at any time. This restriction also applies to those with dual citizenship, for example if they are Cuban and also citizens of another country that is eligible for a visa waiver.