Cuba Policy Changes Under President Trump
On November 8, 2017, the Trump administration released new regulations on travel to and trade with Cuba. In a departure from the Obama administration’s regulatory changes, this policy aims to reinforce the current economic embargo and tourism bans on Cuba. Despite this, much of President Obama's Cuba policy remains intact.
Below are the major changes outlined in the Trump administration's regulations.
1. Prohibits direct financial transactions with Cuban military, security, and intelligence entities.
The State Department has identified a list of entities in Cuba that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence agencies, or security services. Entities on this list have been determined to “disproportionately benefit” the Cuban military.
U.S. travelers and companies may not engage in direct financial transactions with any entity on the list, but American travelers under certain categories of authorized travel (humanitarian, information distribution, government travel, and journalism) are exempted from this prohibition. Importantly, the regulations do not prohibit indirect financial transactions with restricted entities, so purchase through a third-party retailer is still legal.
While most of the prohibitions on direct transactions are intended to halt commercial business deals, among the list of prohibited Cuban entities are a number of hotels. Unless traveling as a U.S. government official or under a journalist, humanitarian, or information authorization, Americans are barred from staying at these hotels.
This stipulation will not affect existing business contracts or in-progress business deals.
2. Increases restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba.
There are still 12 categories under which Americans can travel to Cuba under a general license, meaning there is still no need for U.S. travelers to obtain a specific license from the U.S. government.
Under the “educational” category of permitted travel to Cuba, President Obama established a “people-to-people” general license which allowed individuals to travel to Cuba using their own itineraries. The Trump administration has eliminated the individual “people-to-people” category and instead requires that Americans traveling under this license be accompanied by a U.S. organization that sponsors group exchanges in Cuba.
American travelers using these travel companies must also maintain a full itinerary and financial record during their trip, which they may need to present in a federal audit for up to five years.
Individual Americans may still travel to Cuba without a tour group under the remaining 11 categories, including the “support for the Cuban people” category, provided they engage in a full schedule of “meaningful interaction” with the Cuban people and/or with Cuba’s private sector.
Travel at least partially booked before November 9, 2017 that does not include unauthorized transactions with entities on the Cuba Restricted List will not be affected.
3. Increases reporting requirements and stricter monitoring of U.S. traveler activities in Cuba.
The Treasury Department will regularly audit travelers to Cuba to ensure compliance with the new regulations. This process will be overseen by the Inspector General of the Department of Treasury, who will submit reports to the President.
4. Expands targeted sanctions on Cuban nationals.
Currently, “prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba” are senior officials in the Cuban government with whom Americans are barred from engaging in direct financial transactions. This includes remittances from the U.S. The new policy greatly expands the definition of “prohibited officials” to include hundreds of thousands of state employees who do not work directly for the Cuban armed services.
What has not changed:
1. The U.S. maintains diplomatic ties with Cuba, and embassies in Havana and Washington remain open.
2. The administration did not reinstate the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy.
3. The licensing for other forms of purposeful travel, like business and press, remains authorized.
4. U.S. business activities allowed under President Obama’s regulatory reforms are still allowed so long as they do not involve direct transactions with entities on the Cuba Restricted List.
5. The policy does not change the authorizations for sending remittances to Cubans who do not appear on the list of prohibited persons.
6. Cuba remains off the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.
7. The 23 bilateral agreements signed by the U.S. and Cuba under President Obama remain in effect.