Philippines bans two U.S. senators, mulls new visa rules for Americans

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has banned two U.S. lawmakers from visiting and will introduce tighter entry restrictions for U.S. citizens should Washington enforce sanctions over the detention of a top government critic, the president’s spokesman said on Friday.

President Rodrigo Duterte will impose a requirement on U.S. nationals to get visas should any Philippine officials involved in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima be denied entry to the United States, as sought by U.S. senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy.

Duterte’s move comes after the U.S. Congress approved a 2020 budget that contains a provision introduced by the senators against anyone involved in holding de Lima, who was charged with drug offences in early 2017 after she led an investigation into mass killings during Duterte’s notorious anti-drugs crackdown.

“We will not sit idly if they continue to interfere with our processes as a sovereign state,” Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference.

The Philippines grants visa-free entry for up to 30 days to Americans, 792,000 of whom visited in the first nine months of 2019, nearly 13% of foreign arrivals, government data showed.

The U.S. embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Panelo said travel restrictions over de Lima’s detention were nonsense because she was not wrongfully imprisoned but detained pending trial for crimes.

“The case of Senator de Lima is not one of persecution but of prosecution,” he said.

Duterte makes no secret of his disdain for the United States and what he considers its hypocrisy and interference, though he admits that most Filipinos and his military have high regard for their country’s former colonial ruler.

The United States is the Philippines biggest defense ally and its main source of Western influence. Millions of Filipinos have relatives who are U.S. citizens.

De Lima, a justice minister in a former administration, on Wednesday expressed what she described as overwhelming gratitude to the U.S. Congress for its help.

She has won numerous awards from human rights groups, who consider her a prisoner of conscience.

She has constantly spoken out against Duterte and been calling for an international investigation into his war on drugs, in which thousands of people have been killed.

Police say those killed were drug dealers who resisted arrest, but activists believe many of the killings were murders.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)

Canada granting refugee status to fewer illegal border crossers

FILE PHOTO: A family who identified themselves as being from Hait, are confronted by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer as they try to enter into Canada from Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Phot

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is rejecting more refugee claims from people who crossed its border illegally as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government seeks to dissuade, block and turn back thousands more, according to new data obtained by Reuters.

Forty percent of such border crossers whose claims were finalized in the first three months of this year were granted refugee status, down from 53 percent for all of 2017, according to data provided by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. There were no claims finalized in the first three months of 2017.

FILE PHOTO: A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed after being escorted from their tent encampment to the Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Ph

FILE PHOTO: A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed after being escorted from their tent encampment to the Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

The Immigration and Refugee Board said on Tuesday it has received no directives or guidance on how to deal with these border crossers.

The government’s “first priority remains the safety and security of Canadians and the integrity of our immigration system,” a spokesman for Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen said in an email.

The wave of border crossings started up in January 2017 and ramped up over the summer as many Haitian immigrants in the United States who were at risk of losing their temporary legal status streamed into Canada on expectations they could find a safe haven. In the months since, thousands of Nigerians have made the same crossing.

More than 27,000 asylum seekers have walked across the Canada-U.S. border since President Donald Trump took office, some of whom have told Reuters they left the United States because of Trump’s policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The influx has strained Canada’s backlogged system for assisting people seeking refugee status, leaving aid agencies scrambling to meet growing demand for housing and social services.

Trudeau’s government has sought to stem the influx by amending a U.S.-Canadian border pact that turns back asylum seekers at border crossings, but allows immigrants who enter the country outside of an official border crossing to apply for refugee status.

Canada sent its immigration and refugee minister to Nigeria, asking the Nigerian government to help discourage its citizens from crossing into Canada, and asking the United States to deny visas to people who might then go to Canada.

Immigration and Refugee Board data shows that while only a small number of border-crosser claims have been processed, acceptance rates are down for all groups seeking refugee status. The success rate is especially low for Haitians and Nigerians, with overall acceptance rates of 9 percent and 33.5 percent, respectively.

Graphic on the impact asylum seekers are having in Canada: tmsnrt.rs/2HCp4aD

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Jim Finkle, Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)

No visas, bad jobs: Venezuelan emigrants reluctantly return home

No visas, bad jobs: Venezuelan emigrants reluctantly return home

By Andreina Aponte and Anggy Polanco

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Early last year, Leandro Colmenares sold his car and his apartment and fled Venezuela’s profound economic crisis, joining a wave of emigration to other Latin American countries.

Colmenares, a medical equipment repairman, first set up in Panama with $7,000 in hand. When he could not get a visa and struggled to find work, he ended up with odd jobs like painting houses and doing electrical wiring for $25 a day.

“In Venezuela, I was rubbing shoulders with doctors. Months later I was mopping the floor in a Panama furniture shop,” said Colmenares, who has two sons, including one who is disabled.

He then tried his luck in Colombia, where he again took odd jobs, mostly cooking. He opened a small cafe with other Venezuelans but it failed.

“It was bad, I was going hungry. On weekends I ate once,” he said. And once again, he could not get a visa.

Crushed and having run out of money, Colmenares decided in February he had no choice but return to Venezuela empty-handed and by bus – one of an apparently growing number of Venezuelan emigrants forced to go home after failing to start a new life elsewhere in Latin America.

These recent migrants are often poor, hopping on buses to Latin American capitals with as little as a few hundred dollars and scant prospect of finding a decent job.

“The country I left was bad. When I came back it was worse,” said Colmenares, noting steep prices and ever less food on store shelves. He spends his days in his home in poor central Caracas, scraping out a living making dough for corn patties.

For decades after World War II, Venezuela’s flourishing oil economy made it a destination for mass immigration from southern Europe, with Portuguese bakeries and Spanish bars a common sight across Caracas.

But during 18 years of Socialist rule, an increase in crime, economic decay and political protests have prompted emigration to Miami, Madrid, and the rest of Latin America.

Sociologist Tomas Paez estimates over 2 million Venezuelans have left the country of 30 million, accelerating in the last two years as the OPEC member’s recession has worsened, leading to shortages of vital medicines and food, runaway inflation and lack of formal jobs.

While the early diaspora was mostly a middle-class phenomenon, recent migrants are more likely to be poor, heightening the chances that they will struggle.

There is no data on returnees but Reuters interviewed 10 Venezuelans who had emigrated after President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013 only to return.

“ALL YOU DO IS SURVIVE”

For Miguel Blanco, a Caracas-based sociologist, the degree of poverty among people now leaving the country has led to more of them returning.

“When migration is triggered by push factors, it can lead the migrant to fail because of lack of money,” said Blanco.

Pockets of Venezuelan economic migrants, once a relatively rare sight in South America, have sprung up in cities from Bogota to Santiago de Chile. They are often seen hawking traditional corn patties on the streets or offering door-to-door beauty treatments.

Panama’s head of migration said in August that some 2,000 Venezuelans were setting up there every week, compared with about 500 to 600 before August, when Maduro’s government created a legislative superbody that was widely condemned by the opposition and other countries as a power grab.

With about 60,000 Venezuelans already in Panama, the government has implemented visas as an entry requirement.

Peru has estimated that in the first half of 2017 some 40,000 Venezuelans entered the country.

Venezuelan government supporters have said the extent of emigration has been exaggerated. Maduro’s administration scoffs at those who leave as selfish and unpatriotic. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for data.

Colombia, which shares a porous border of some 2,219 kilometers with Venezuela, has estimated that about 36,000 Venezuelans enter daily, and that some 2,000 do not immediately return to their country.

Gerson Lopez, a 30-year-old graphic designer, said he was paid less by a Colombian beauty product company because he did not have legal documents.

“Informal work there is very exploitative,” said Lopez. “Venezuelans are doing the work Colombians don’t want to do.”

Lopez was broke when he returned to Venezuela in late January after being unable to find good work in Bogota.

“You have to think very hard if you’re going to leave,” he said, adding bitterly, “(But) here you don’t have any opportunities. All you do is survive.”

(Additional reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima, Fabian Cambero in Santiago and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Dan Flynn)

Survivors of Texas truck where 10 immigrants died seek to trade testimony for visas

Police officers work on a crime scene after eight people believed to be illegal immigrants being smuggled into the United States were found dead inside a sweltering 18-wheeler trailer parked behind a Walmart store in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. July 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ray Whitehouse

By Jon Herskovitz and Mica Rosenberg

AUSTIN, Texas/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Some of the illegal immigrants who survived a deadly human-smuggling journey into Texas are seeking visas to stay in the United States in exchange for testimony against those responsible for an operation that killed 10 people on a sweltering truck, a lawyer said on Tuesday.

There is precedent for such visas and it could help U.S. authorities bring more people to justice, experts said. So far, only one person has been charged, the driver of the truck who said he was unaware of the human cargo aboard until he took a rest stop in San Antonio. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The case could also provide a test for the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has promised to crack down on illegal immigration and the criminal syndicates responsible for human trafficking.

Silvia Mintz, an attorney representing the Guatemalan Consulate in Houston, said she has contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to see if it would consider granting “U visas,” available to victims of crimes such as human trafficking who have pertinent information to provide law enforcement.

At least 100 illegal immigrants, mainly from Mexico and Guatemala, were crammed into the back of the truck after crossing the U.S. border.

“If we are able to establish the case, we will go ahead and seek the U visa,” Mintz said in a telephone interview.

Shane Folden, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, said most of the people found alive at the scene are still in local hospitals. He said it was too early to talk about possible visas.

“There are a number of paths toward immigration relief for situations such as this,” he said in a telephone interview, adding, “we are not at that point yet.”

Of the 39 people found at the scene, 10 have died, 22 were in hospitals and seven have been released and were being questioned, he said.

Most of those aboard the truck fled before authorities could capture them.

DEATH IN VICTORIA

U.S. law enforcement has granted temporary visas previously for immigrants who provided testimony in what is considered the worst illegal immigrant-smuggling case in U.S. history, when 19 people died after traveling in an 18-wheeler truck through Victoria, Texas, in 2003.

Temporary visas for about 40 people aboard that truck helped U.S. prosecutors charge more than a dozen people with conspiracy in the case, prosecutors said at the time.

Alonzo Pena, a former deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said witnesses in the San Antonio case can be released into the community under strict conditions that could include wearing electronic monitoring devices.

Authorities would likely repatriate the others, said Pena, who runs a San Antonio consulting business, in a telephone interview.

A U-visa is valid for four years and offers a path to apply for permanent residency status. Congress limited the number to 10,000 a year, and the program is heavily oversubscribed.

Those on the truck may also try for a T-visa for victims of human trafficking.

Agent Folden said U.S. authorities want to topple the criminal groups responsible for human trafficking.

“Our primary goal is to disrupt and dismantle these organizations,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forysth in San Antonio and Reade Levinson in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)

Firm commissioned by Tillerson recommends that DHS issue U.S. visas

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang/File Photo -

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The issuance of U.S. visas, passports and other travel documents should be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security from the State Department, a consulting company commissioned by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recommended in a report.

The study, by Insigniam Holding LLC, which was seen by Reuters, also urges extending foreign postings for U.S. diplomats by one year and ensuring overlap between arriving and departing diplomats to improve efficiency and impact.

The 110-page study was based on online surveys of 35,386 people within the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as one-on-one interviews with about 300 workers. It was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson commissioned the study as he looks to reorganize the State Department to cut its budget by roughly 30 percent, as laid out in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal.

Influential members of Congress, which has the power of the purse, have made clear that they are not willing to institute such sharp budget reductions, which have contributed to anxiety and low morale among many State Department employees.

In the report, the consultants recommended that Tillerson “move issuance of passports, visas and other travel documents to Homeland Security.”

“There may be an opportunity to elevate efficiency and reduce cost by this change,” it said. “Indications are that doing so would elevate security at our borders.”

Jeffrey Gorsky, a former State Department consular official, said the idea of shifting visa issuance from the State Department had been around since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but that improved U.S. security had undercut the argument for this.

Such a shift, he said, would likely require congressional action and could erode the principle of “non-reviewability,” the current doctrine under which consular decisions may not be reviewed by the courts.

The report also called for crafting “a unifying, clear and vibrant mission” for the State Department and USAID, though the recommendations did not specify one; focusing on “front-line” staff at U.S. embassies and consulates rather than headquarters personnel; and improving management to measure performance, remove “poor performers” and update personnel policies.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Trump to seek changes in visa program to encourage hiring Americans

President Trump waves as he boards Air Force One. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday will sign an executive order directing federal agencies to recommend changes to a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill high-skilled jobs.

Two senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters at the White House said Trump will also use the “buy American and hire American” order to seek changes in government procurement practices to increase the purchase of American products in federal contracts.

Trump is to sign the order when he visits the world headquarters of Snap-On Inc, a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The order is an attempt by Trump to carry out his “America First” campaign pledges to reform U.S. immigration policies and encourage purchases of American products. As he nears the 100-day benchmark of his presidency, Trump has no major legislative achievements to tout but has used executive orders to seek regulatory changes to help the U.S. economy.

The order he will sign on Tuesday will call for “the strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the United States of labor from abroad for the stated purpose of creating higher wages and higher employment rates for workers in the United States,” one of the senior officials said.

It will call on the departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to take action to crack down on what the official called “fraud and abuse” in the U.S. immigration system to protect American workers.

The order will call on those four federal departments to propose reforms to ensure H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest paid applicant.

H-1B visas are intended for foreign nationals in “specialty” occupations that generally require higher education, which according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) includes, but is not limited to, scientists, engineers or computer programmers. The government uses a lottery to award 65,000 visas every year and randomly distributes another 20,000 to graduate student workers.

The number of applications for H-1B visas fell to 199,000 this year from 236,000 in 2016, according U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Companies say they use visas to recruit top talent. More than 15 percent of Facebook Inc’s U.S. employees in 2016 used a temporary work visa, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. Labor Department filings.

Facebook, Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc were not immediately available for a comment outside normal business hours.

A majority of the H-1B visas are, however, awarded to outsourcing firms, sparking criticism by skeptics who say those firms use the visas to fill lower-level information technology jobs. Critics also say the lottery system benefits outsourcing firms that flood the system with mass applications.

The senior official said the end result of how the system currently works is that foreign workers are often brought in at less pay to replace American workers, “violating the principle of the program.”

Indian nationals are by far the largest group of recipients of the H-1B visas issued each year to new applicants.

NASSCOM, the Indian IT service industry’s main lobby group, said it supports efforts to root out any abuses occurring in the H-1B system, but slammed allegations against the sector, saying the idea that H-1B visa holders are cheap labor, is inaccurate and a campaign to discredit the sector.

It warned that any onerous additional restrictions to the visa program would “hurt thousands of U.S. businesses and their efforts to be more competitive,” by hindering access to needed talent. NASSCOM said it would comment further when there are specific proposals under consideration.

The Indian commerce ministry, which has been liaising with the United States on the visa issue, declined to comment. A senior ministry official said it would wait for “actual action” before making any official comment. India had urged the U.S. to be open minded on admitting skilled Indian workers.

India’s No. 2 IT Services firm Infosys has said it is ramping up work on on-site development centers in the United States to train local talent in a bid to address the visa regulation changes under consideration.

Infosys also warned on an investor call last week that its operating margin forecast for fiscal 2018 may get impacted by onerous changes to U.S. visa rules.

Trump’s new executive order will also ask federal agencies to look at how to get rid of loopholes in the government procurement process.

Specifically, the review will take into account whether waivers in free-trade agreements are leading to unfair trade by allowing foreign companies to undercut American companies in the global government procurement market.

“If it turns out America is a net loser because of those free-trade agreement waivers, which apply to almost 60 countries, these waivers may be promptly renegotiated or revoked,” the second official said.

(Writing by Steve Holland and Euan Rocha; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington, David Ingram in San Francisco, Sankalp Phartiyal in Mumbai and Manoj Kumar in New Delhi; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Himani Sarkar)

Homeland Security announces steps against H1B visa fraud

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced steps on Monday to prevent the fraudulent use of H1B visas, used by employers to bring in specialized foreign workers temporarily, which appeared to fall short of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to overhaul the program.

A White House official said Trump may still do more on the program.

Trump had promised to end the lottery system for H1B visas, which gives each applicant an equal chance at 65,000 positions each year.

Lobbyists for businesses who rely on H1B visas, commonly used by the tech sector, had expected Trump to upend the lottery in favor of a system that prioritized workers who are highly skilled and would be highly paid in the United States.

The lottery for fiscal year 2018 opened on Monday without changes.

The start of the lottery was seen by those watching the issue as the unofficial deadline for the Trump administration to enact H1B visa reform, and the failure to meet that deadline signals that Trump’s promised overhaul of the system may be off the table or long delayed.

“More oversight is a good start, but employers can still use the program legally to depress wages and replace American workers. That falls short of the promises President Trump made to protect American workers,” said Peter Robbio, a spokesman for Numbers USA, a Washington-based group that advocates for limiting immigration into the United States.

The Trump administration has taken other steps to crackdown on H1B visa abuse, such as issuing a Justice Department warning to employers and announcing plans to increase transparency on applicants.

“These are important first steps to bring more accountability and transparency to the H1B system,” a White House official said. “The administration is considering several additional options for the president to use his existing authority to ensure federal agencies more rigorously enforce all aspects of the program.”

Tech companies rely on the program to bring in workers with special skills and have lobbied for an expansion of the number of H1B visas awarded.

Proponents of limiting legal immigration, including Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, have argued the program gives jobs that Americans could fill to foreign workers at a less expensive cost.

The measures announced by DHS on Monday focus on site visits by U.S. authorities to employers who use H1B visas.

In future site visits, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agents will investigate incidents where an employer’s basic business information cannot be validated; businesses that have a high ratio of H1B employees compared with U.S. workers; and employers petitioning for H1B workers who work off-site.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Peru to give visas to thousands of crisis-weary Venezuelans

Peru's president in press conference saying venezuelans will get visas

LIMA (Reuters) – Peru has created a temporary visa that will allow thousands of Venezuelans to work and study in the country, part of a migratory policy that aims to “build bridges” and “not walls,” the Andean nation’s interior ministry said.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s government issued 20 temporary visas to Venezuelan migrants in Peru this week. Kuczysnki, a centrist, has expressed concern about shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela, mired in a deep economic crisis.

Some 6,000 Venezuelans are expected to receive the permit, which will allow them to study, work and receive health services in Peru for a year, the interior ministry said late on Thursday.

Peru has enjoyed nearly two decades of uninterrupted economic growth and single-digit inflation, a sharp contrast to socialist-led Venezuela, where the ranks of the poor have swollen in recent years.

“We want to offer a different message on migration than what’s offered in other places. We want to build bridges that unite us and not walls to separate us,” Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio said in a statement.

The comment appeared to be a thinly veiled shot at the new U.S. government, which is traditionally an ally of Peru.

U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed a temporary entry ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and insisted that Mexico will pay for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to curb illegal immigration.

Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker and free-trade advocate who took office last year, has previously compared Trump’s proposed border wall to the Berlin Wall, and said he would oppose it in the United Nations.

Kuczynski and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said last week that they would stand with Mexico and seek to strengthen regional trade, in the wake of rising tensions between Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trump.

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Paul Simao)

EU May Require Visas from Americans

File picture shows European Union flags fluttering outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union executive is considering whether to make U.S. and Canadian citizens apply for visas before traveling to the bloc, a move that could raise tensions as Brussels negotiates a trade pact with Washington.

Only Britain and Ireland have opt-outs from the 28-nation EU’s common visa policy and the European Commission must decide by April 12 whether to demand visas from countries who have similar requirements in place for one or more EU state.

Washington and Ottawa both demand entry visas from Romanians and Bulgarians, whose states joined the EU in 2007. The United States also excludes Croatians, Cypriots and Poles from a visa waiver scheme offered to other EU citizens.

“A political debate and decision is obviously needed on such an important issue. But there is a real risk that the EU would move towards visas for the two (Americans and Canadians),” an EU source said.

Whether such a step was practical, however, was in question given that it would seriously undermine the EU’s vast and lucrative tourist industry. The U.S. and Canadian missions to Brussels were not immediately available for comment.

The discussion, prompted by U.S. and Canadian refusals to waive their visa requirements for holders of some EU member states’ passports, will take place on Tuesday, just over a week before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Europe on a visit that will include trade talks.

Trade negotiations between Brussels and Washington are at a crucial point since both sides believe their transatlantic agreement, known as TTIP, stands a better chance of passing before Obama leaves the White House in January.

Obama is due to visit Britain before meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a trade fair in Hanover on April 24.

“There are major question marks over TTIP, no one could now say exactly how it’ll go in the end. We’ll see if we can get Obama in Hanover to commit to more of what we want,” said one European Parliament member tracking TTIP.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Mark Heinrich)

United States Denying Visas To Israelis

Obama Administration officials, angry that Israel is refusing their demands in the ongoing peace talks to give land to the Palestinians, are making things harder for ordinary Israelis to enter the country.

In addition, the administration is blocking Israel from a special program that allows citizens to enter the country without a preapproved visa.

Countries on the list include the UK, Sweden, France, Germany, Japan and Taiwan.  This means travelers from those countries with valid passports who meet the requirements of an electronic passport can enter the U.S. for 90 days without a visa.  Israel has been attempting to be part of the 37 countries in the program.

When asked about their rejection, Obama officials refer to the country’s “treatment of Arab-American travelers.”

Rejections of visas to Israeli citizens have jumped a shocking 80 percent in the last year.  The increase is so significant that political leaders such as Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has called on the State Department to end “its widespread, arbitrary practice of denying young Israelis tourist visas.”

Israel, who until the recent administration was considered one of America’s closest allies, has been wondering why countries like Iceland and Latvia qualify for the special visa program while they are repeatedly rejected.