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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Restrictions on travel to Cuba have been a key and often contentious component in U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba's communist government since the early 1960s. Under the Bush Administration, restrictions on travel and on private remittances to Cuba were tightened. In March 2003, the Administration eliminated travel for people-to-people educational exchanges unrelated to academic coursework. In June 2004, the Administration further restricted family and educational travel, eliminated the category of fully-hosted travel, and restricted remittances so that they could only be sent to the remitter's immediate family. Initially there was mixed reaction to the Administration's June 2004 tightening of Cuba travel and remittance restrictions, but opposition to the policy grew, especially within the Cuban American community regarding the restrictions on family travel and remittances. 

Dating back to 2000, there have been numerous legislative efforts to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba in various ways. The Bush Administration regularly threatened to veto legislation if it contained provisions weakening Cuba sanctions. In the 110th Congress, several House and Senate committee versions of appropriations bills had provisions that would have eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, but no final action was taken before the end of the Congress. 

During the 2008 electoral campaign, Barack Obama pledged to lift restrictions on family travel to Cuba as well as restrictions on Cuban Americans sending remittances to Cuba. In the aftermath of that election, the 111th Congress took action to ease some restrictions on travel to Cuba by including two provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8), which President Obama signed into law on March 11, 2009. The first provision eases restrictions on family travel, which the Treasury Department implemented by issuing a general license for such travel as it existed prior to the Bush Administration's tightening of family travel restrictions in June 2004. Family travel is now allowed once every 12 months for an unlimited length of stay to visit a close relative who is no more than three generations removed from the traveler. The second provision eases travel restrictions related to the marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods to Cuba, and requires the Treasury Department to issue a general license for such travel. In April 2009, President Barack Obama announced that his Administration would go further and allow unlimited family travel and remittances; regulations implementing these changes were issued in September 2009. 

Several legislative initiatives have been introduced in the 111th Congress that would further ease Cuba travel restrictions: H.R. 874 /S. 428 and H.R. 1528 would prohibit restrictions on travel to Cuba; H.R. 188, H.R. 1530, and H.R. 2272, which would lift the overall embargo on Cuba, would also lift travel restrictions; H.R. 1531/ S. 1089, which would facilitate the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, would also prohibit Cuba travel restrictions; H.R. 332 would ease restrictions on educational travel; S. 774, H.R. 1918, and S. 1517 would allow for travel related to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities. In contrast, H.Con.Res. 132 would call for the fulfillment of certain democratic conditions before the United States increases trade and tourism to Cuba. 

For additional information on Cuba, see CRS Report R40193, Cuba: Issues for the 111th Congress

Date of Report: January 25, 2010
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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