Nearly five years ago, the Trump administration put policies into place that severely restricted travel between the United States and Cuba. On Monday, the Biden administration moved to undo some of those measures and make travel between the two countries somewhat easier once again.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement that among the new measures the Biden administration will put into place will be allowing more flights between the U.S. and Cuba, expanding service beyond Havana. But the biggest change for would-be leisure travelers? Group people-to-people tours and educational travel will be reinstated. The Biden administration said it will also allow for some business travel related to professional meetings and research.
The administration did not go as far as to approve individual people-to-people travel, a policy that was implemented by President Obama and allowed for individual travelers to go to Cuba and engage in cultural and educational exchanges. But the fact that group people-to-people travel to Cuba will be permitted again means that certain licensed tour operators and travel companies approved by the U.S. government (such as InsightCuba, Intrepid Travel and G Adventures) will get the green light to relaunch organized group tours from the U.S. to Cuba. Their emphasis will be on purposeful cultural and educational interactions with the people of Cuba (hence the term “people-to-people” travel).
“With these actions, we aim to support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. “We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures.”
In addition to loosening travel restrictions, the U.S. government will remove the current $1,000-per-quarter limit on family remittances (money that is sent to family members in Cuba from the U.S.), and will allow non-family remittance, which can support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. Former President Donald Trump had increased sanctions against Cuba, including the cancellation of permits to send remittances.
These measures, in addition to the pandemic, contributed to an economic crisis in Cuba, where people have been suffering from shortages of basic products, power outages, and rationing, the Associated Press reported. The economic situation led to thousands of people protesting across Cuba on July 11, 2021, the largest such protests on the island in decades.
The Biden administration said it will also move to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which has a backlog of more than 20,000 applications, and increase consular services and visa processing in Havana, which resumed on May 3.
As for when the new policies will go into effect, the Biden administration said it is “working expeditiously” to put these changes into effect.
Associated Press contributed reporting.