New Cuba travel restrictions have been announced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The new regulations effectively end people-to-people tours that are the easiest way for Americans to currently visit the country.
“Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
Administration officials noted that these actions “mark a continued commitment toward implementing the National Security Presidential Memorandum signed by the President on June 16, 2017, titled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.”
The new regulations will go into place on June 5, 2019, when they are published in the Federal Register.
There is a grandfathering provision for those who have already paid for at least part of their trip to Cuba.
The OFAC guidelines “provides that certain group people-to-people educational travel that previously was authorized will continue to be authorized where the traveler had already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019.
The administration signaled in April that new restrictions were coming. National Security Adviser John Bolton said the “Treasury Department would implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba."
These new policies continue the tightening of restrictions on American travel to Cuba, including travel for the country’s citizens who live in the U.S.
The U.S. State Department also announced in March that it would be doing away with five-year tourist visa for citizens of the Caribbean island nation, meaning that Cuban nationals living in the U.S. and wanting to return home must do so through a third country, such as Mexico or Panama.
Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) released a statement noting the impact this decision will have on Cuba and the U.S. travel community:
“Today’s announcement that the U.S. government will end group people-to-people educational travel to Cuba is a devastating blow to millions of Cubans as well as to U.S. travel companies, airlines, and cruise lines. It will also have far-reaching impacts on U.S.-Cuban relations, as these educational exchanges are critical for creating meaningful connections and fostering understanding between American travelers.
Currently, U.S. citizens are the second largest group visiting Cuba after Canadians. This major policy change barring many American travelers from visiting the island will make life much more difficult for average Cubans and will be deeply felt by Cuba’s burgeoning private sector–the very entrepreneurs that the Trump administration claims to support.”