Concerns mount over Israeli visa rejections

Another federal lawmaker on Monday joined the growing chorus of criticism over a dramatic increase in State Department refusals of Israeli visa applications.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting detailed information about the rejection rate for U.S. visa applications filed by Israeli nationals between the ages of 21 and 27.

Her inquiry follows a near 400 percent spike in Israeli visa refusals in recent years.

The concern centers on young Israelis planning to travel in the United States after the completion of their compulsory military service but before they complete their educations.

“This is upsetting,” Meng wrote to Kerry. “I am concerned with the negative presumption regarding the beautiful tradition of young Israelis traveling after the army and before college. The apparent presumption of nefarious intent on the part of young Israelis seems unfair, and I urge you to end it.”

The refusal rate for Israeli visa applicants, while fluctuating somewhat from year to year, has risen from 2.5 percent in fiscal 2007 to 9.7 percent last year, according to State Department figures.

The increase comes amid heightened government scrutiny of immigration fraud involving Israeli nationals involved with selling cosmetics made with minerals that purportedly come from the Dead Sea.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) raised the issue earlier this month after his office heard from constituents whose friends and family were denied visas. 

He contends the government is “presumptively” denying Israeli nationals on grounds that they would violate the terms of their visas by taking American jobs in the Dead Sea cosmetics industry.

Under questioning at a congressional hearing last week, Kerry maintained that there is no bias.

“I can guarantee you that visa applications are treated fairly and similarly in all places,” Kerry told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) have also taken issue with the perceived policy shift.