Schumer Pushes Feds to End Arbitrary Practice of Preemptively Denying Tourist Visas for Young Israelis

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Scores of Young Israelis Have Been Denied Tourist Visas Due To Overblown Concerns They Will Violate Visa Terms by Working in Areas Like Selling Dead ...

New York, NY - March 6, 2014 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the U.S. Department of State (State) to end its widespread, arbitrary practice of denying young Israelis tourist visas out of presumptive fear that they will violate the terms of their visa by violating visa terms by working at jobs like selling Dead Sea cosmetics in U.S. shopping malls. Instead of the current practice, which makes it near impossible for any young Israeli to visit the U.S., Schumer urged State to work with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to focus on visa enforcement rather than presuming all young applicants from Israel will violate the terms of their visa. Schumer explained that it is common for young Israelis to travel after their compulsory military service, but due to these unfair practices Israelis are no longer even trying to come to the U.S., a practice which denies the economic benefits of valuable tourist spending.
 
“This arbitrary practice of categorically denying visas to all would-be young travelers due to the actions of a few bad apples is unjustified and counterproductive for the U.S. economy and should end immediately,” said Schumer. “Let’s punish the wrongdoers instead of making it impossible for young Israelis to come see our beautiful sites, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and support all the jobs related to those activities. It makes no sense to deny tourist visas to all young Israelis simply because of the actions of a few.”
 
According to Schumer, this unofficial policy has been in place for 2-3 years, and has been extended to include not just Israelis who are seeking to travel after completing their compulsory military service, but also to include all Israeli nationals who are of student age. According to State, the Israel visa refusal rate for Fiscal Year 2013 was 9.7%. This is up from a refusal rate of 5.4% in Fiscal Year 2012 and as low as 2.5% in 2007. Schumer is particularly concerned about this practice since Israel is one of our closest allies and Israeli youth are frequent travelers who support the increasingly important travel and tourism sector of the economy.
 
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and ICE Acting Director Daniel Ragsdale, Schumer urged the two agencies to end the arbitrary practice of denying young Israelis tourists visas due to overstated and presumptive concerns that they will violate the terms of their visa by staying in the U.S. to work in jobs like selling Dead Sea cosmetics in shopping malls. Instead of preemptively denying visas, he asked them to instead focus efforts on identifying visa violators and step up enforcement. Schumer made it clear that he feels this current practice unfairly punishes Israel’s youth and is preventing thousands of would-be tourists from even attempting to apply to visit the U.S.
 
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and ICE Acting Director Daniel Ragsdale is below:
 
Dear Secretary Kerry and Acting Director Ragsdale:
 
As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, I am responsible for directing the Senate’s oversight of the immigration functions of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. 
 
In this regard, I write to express my concern about the tourist visa adjudication policy at our consulates in Israel.  After receiving inquires from several constituents, my staff contacted your legislative affairs staff and learned that our consulates apparently have a policy to presumptively deny all tourist visa applications for young Israeli nationals who wish to visit the United States during the period in between the completion of their military service and the resumption of their university education.  In addition, this presumptive denial policy has apparently been expanded to include all Israeli nationals who are of student age.  
 
When my staff asked your staff why this arbitrary policy toward Israel was in place, we were informed that the State Department is concerned that these young Israeli nationals were going to violate the terms of their visas by, for example, selling Dead Sea cosmetics at shopping malls across the United States.   Needless to say, even if there is a concern that a small segment of a group will violate their visas, this is no reason to have a policy of presumptively denying visas for an entire group of foreign nationals from one of our most important allies and global partners in the world.  
 
I therefore respectfully ask you to end this presumption of denying tourist visas for young Israeli nationals.  If you have a concern about certain people violating their visas, I ask that you work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make sure that any and all visa violators are apprehended and removed.   I have copied Daniel Ragsdale, the Acting Director of ICE, on this letter so that your agencies may coordinate to stop any visa violations that are indeed occurring.   Heightened enforcement will stop the bad actors without the need to arbitrarily and capriciously exclude thousands of visitors who will come here to eat at our restaurants, shop at our stores, and stay at our hotels. 
 
I thank you for your attention to this matter of utmost importance.
 
Sincerely,
 
Charles E. Schumer
Chairman Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
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