The U.S. government announced Thursday that its decades-old travel restrictions to Cuba will be significantly eased. The decision, which goes into effect Friday, is aimed at increasing both social and economic engagement with Cubans and will expedite the process for people who wish to travel to or do business there.
The new rules, promulgated by the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department, will lift restrictions on travel, business and remittance to Cuba, something that was expected after President Obama’s announcement last month that he will normalize relations between the two countries.
"We applaud the Administration for acting quickly to expand the flow of contacts and resources from the United States to the Cuban people," Ric Herrero, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations advocate #CubaNow, said in a statement. "These regulatory changes, which go into effect tomorrow, represent a momentous step toward getting government bureaucracies out of the way and empowering individuals to become catalysts for meaningful change in Cuba."
While tourist travel still remains illegal, 12 existing reasons for travel that required special permissions from the U.S. government will no longer be required. Among these existing reasons are family visits, trips for religious reasons and visitors going to Cuba for academic studies. The prohibition on spending U.S. dollars has also been lifted, and visitors may use credit cards and spend U.S. dollars in the country. The permitted expenditures are capped at $400 in souvenirs, including up to $100 for tobacco and alcohol. Americans will also be allowed to send as much as $2,000 every three months to Cubans -- up from the existing $500 limit. However, it is still not permitted to send money to Cubans who are senior government officials or senior members of the Cuban Communist Party, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Further, airlines and travel agents will be allowed to start services to Cuba without special licenses. Under current law, only three U.S. airports are authorized to provide flights to Cuba, but the new ruling will seek to include any airport that qualifies to provide chartered flights.
The Obama administration, however, did not propose lifting the long-standing trade embargo between the two countries.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, whose department oversees Washington's sanctions against Cuba, said in a statement that these "changes will have a direct impact in further engaging and empowering the Cuban people, promoting positive change for Cuba’s citizens," according to the New York Times. “Cuba has real potential for economic growth, and by increasing travel, commerce, communications, and private business development between the United States and Cuba, the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own future."