New Cuba Travel Regulations

November 13, 2017

On November 8, the U.S. Treasury Department released new regulations for Cuba travel based on President Trump’s  Presidential Memorandum in June of this year. Religious travel is largely unaffected. Individuals can still travel to Cuba at will for religious purposes without a “specific” license or organizational sponsorship, so long as they engage in a full-time schedule of religious activities.

During the Bush and Obama Administrations, CWS and its member communions advocated for an end to restrictions on religious travel and remittances (including pension payments for Cuban pastors from U.S. denominations), and in favor of a more expansive visa policy for Cuban faith leaders to travel to the U.S.

Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of CWS said, “The church has been pivotal to gaining improved relations between the two countries. Without this advocacy and witness to our faith, the bygone Cold War would still have chilling effect.”

As a result, the Obama Administration issued a “general license” for religious travel, eventually permitting individuals to travel to Cuba at will under their own auspices for religious purposes. The June Presidential Memorandum appeared to leave unchanged the Obama-era policies on religious travel, and the new Treasury regulations confirm that continuation.

As before, religious travelers must engage in a full-time schedule of religious activities. Some leisure activities are permitted so long as they are consistent with full-time religious activities. To be cautious, such travelers are advised to keep a log of their religious activities in case they are questioned upon return to the U.S.

The major change under the new regulations is in the category of “people to people” travel, a broad category put in place in the final months of the Obama presidency. Such travel is no longer authorized for individuals traveling under their own auspices. Travelers must be sponsored by an organization with a history of organizing such trips. This change is likely to significantly reduce the number of Americans traveling to Cuba, harming Cuban families who have opened their homes to lodgers and privately-owned restaurants.

The State Department has issued a list of hotels, restaurants and other businesses connected with the Cuban military that U.S. visitors to Cuba are not permitted to patronize. This list is drawn narrowly, so it is unlikely to create inconvenience for religious travelers.

While diplomatic relations, remittances, religious travel and travel by other specific categories of people, including Cuban-Americans, are unchanged, the tightened rules on broader individual travel and spending are likely to harm employment opportunities for ordinary Cuban people and increase tensions between our two countries. American churches have long advocated for policies that help end hunger and poverty, and which support opportunities for self-improvement.

For more information, contact Martin Shupack, mshupack@cwsglobal.org, 202-481-6934

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