Biden administration seeks to expand authorized travel to Cuba

After a lengthy review of U.S.-Cuban relations, the White House is reportedly working on a plan to make it easier for Americans to visit friends and relatives in Cuba.

Such policy changes would partially reverse some of the tough policies the former Trump administration implemented against the island nation, easing travel restrictions currently in place.

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Part of the plan would include expanding flights to Cuba, allowing travelers to go to places other than Havana’s only airport that had been sanctioned under Trump administration rules. New regulations would allow airports beyond the capital to open up to charter flights, Travel Noire reported.

“The steps taken today are again practical steps that we are taking to address the humanitarian situation and to meet the needs of the Cuban people,” a senior administration official told NPR. “President Biden is also fulfilling his commitment to the Cuban-American community and their family members in Cuba by announcing actions in four key areas that we plan to implement in the coming weeks.”

A senior administration official also told NPR that the White House’s impending measures were aimed at helping the Cuban people.

One of the goals of this policy overhaul is to expand authorized travel between the United States and Cuba. However, the easing of some restrictions does not mean that the communist-ruled Caribbean country would be fully open to American tourists.

Only groups planning to travel to Cuba for educational or professional purposes will be permitted to travel under the authorized travel category “People to People,” although the Biden administration’s announcement did not provide any details on the how this travel exception would be implemented.

Mark Feierstein, a former senior adviser at the US Agency for International Development under President Biden, called the upcoming policy review a “big shift” and said it was “retreating” to Obama-era policies.


Spotlight on Havana
Havana, Cuba. (Photo via Collette Vacations)

As part of these policy changes, the U.S. government will strengthen its consular services, increase support for Cuban entrepreneurs, and lift a $1,000 limit on family payments (the transfer of money between people in the United States and family members in Cuba).

It will also reinstate the Cuba Family Reunification Parole Program, which allows certain eligible U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply to bring their family members from Cuba without waiting for their immigrant visas to become available.

However, the planned changes fall short of previous policies toward Cuba that existed under the Obama administration. For example, the “People to People” individual educational travel category that was in place under President Obama will not be reinstated.

Under the Obama-era Individual Exception, travelers were allowed to use a self-certification of their own compliance with the rules to travel independently to Cuba, which former opponents saw as “a means for individuals to engage in prohibited tourist travel in Cuba,” according to the legal offices of Holland & Knight.