The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) today called on the U.S. State Department to end its practice of denying visas to young Israeli citizens and Israeli military personnel, thereby precluding them from entering the United States on a temporary basis.

Due to the fact that Israel is not one of the 38 countries that participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, Israeli nationals need a preapproved visa in order to gain entry to the U.S. Although the State Department maintains that it has no official policy whereby it makes obtaining a temporary visa an arduous task for young Israelis and Israeli military personnel, the fact is that the percentage of Israelis whose visa applications were rejected rose drastically last year.

According to the State Department, the Israel visa refusal rate in 2013 was 9.7%, a significant increase from the 5.4% in 2012 and a drastic rise from the 2.5% in 2007.

A number of U.S. lawmakers, including Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Representatives Nita Lowey and Grace Meng of New York, have called on the State Department to end its practice of arbitrarily denying tourist visas for young Israeli citizens.

In a recent letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Schumer noted that while it is fairly common for young Israelis to travel to the United States after finishing their military service and prior to beginning their studies at university, the U.S. has refused to grant visas to numerous Israelis. Senator Schumer called on the State Department to stop assuming that young Israelis will abuse their visas and instead focus on the area of visa enforcement.

“The National Council of Young Israel calls on the U.S. State Department to immediately halt its practice of presumptive and arbitrary visa denial of young Israelis who seek to visit the United States,” said NCYI President Farley Weiss. “With no sound security rationale for the inexplicable visa rejections aimed at Israeli nationals, which have tripled over the past five years, a reversal of this troubling policy is absolutely warranted.”

“We commend Senator Schumer and Representatives Lowey and Meng, as well as their colleagues in Congress, for their outspoken opposition to the State Department’s visa rejection policy, and we hope that their strident advocacy on this issue will raise awareness of this inequitable and indiscriminate immigration program,” continued Weiss. “As one of the United States’ staunchest allies, Israel and its citizens deserve to be treated better by the State Department.”

For the past 102 years, the National Council of Young Israel has ably served the broader Jewish community. With more than 25,000 member families and nearly 200 branch synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel, the National Council of Young Israel is a multi-faceted organization that embraces Jewish communal needs and often takes a leading role in tackling the important issues that face the Jewish community in North America and Israel.