Among countries in the Middle East, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Israel received the most non-immigrant visas to the US last year, according to the US State Department’s annual report released on Sunday.
The report found that, in 2022, Saudi Arabian citizens were granted 52,775 non-immigrant visas, making the Kingdom the recipient of the most visas of that kind out of all Arab states. In the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) Israel was at the top spot with 141,032 non-immigrant visas issued, followed by Turkiye with 72,178. In contrast, the Occupied-Palestinian Territories received 7,241 visas.
Other MENA countries in the midst of war or conflict were among the countries with the lowest number of visas issued. Libya received the lowest number of visas, with just 1,438. Other countries included Yemen (2,670), Sudan (3,083), Syria (4,059) and Iraq (5,171). Despite not having diplomatic relations with the US since 1979, Iranian citizens were granted 10,422 visas.
The report registered 29 visa types, covering a range of categories from visiting athletes, tourists, doctors and victims of human trafficking, to people transiting through. According to Al-Monitor, reporting on the findings, citizens from the MENA region received about 480,000 non-immigrant visas, or about 7 per cent of the total 6.8 million visas issued globally.
In January of this year, the US State Department announced that Israel met the Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV) refusal rate requirement for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), meaning that less than 3 per cent of non-immigrant visa applications by Israeli citizens to visit the US were denied.
The State Department also stated that Israeli tourists may qualify for visa-free travel to the US, on condition that Israel halts discriminatory practices against Arab Americans. The US’s conditions for Israel’s visa waiver include that the Israeli government share security data about its citizens and to allow Palestinians with US passports to land freely at Israel’s airport on their way to the Occupied West Bank.
In March, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted that: “In the coming months we will fulfil the additional requirements and, in September 2023, the State of Israel is expected to enter the list of visa-exempt countries for the USA”.