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Friday, August 3, 2012

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 George W. 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. 

Obama Administration Policy 

Under the Obama Administration, Congress took action in March 2009 by including two provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8) that eased restrictions on family travel and travel related to marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods to Cuba. Subsequently, in April 2009, President Obama announced that his Administration would go further and allow unlimited family travel and remittances. Regulations implementing these changes were issued in September 2009. The new regulations also included the authorization of general licenses for travel transactions for telecommunications-related sales and for attendance at professional meetings related to commercial telecommunications.

In January 2011, the Obama Administration announced policy changes further easing restrictions on travel and remittances. The measures (1) increase purposeful travel to Cuba related to religious, educational, and people-to-people exchanges; (2) allow any U.S. person to send remittances to non-family members in Cuba and make it easier for religious institutions to send remittances for religious activities; and (3) permit all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed charter flights. These new measures, with the exception of the expansion of eligible airports, are similar to policies that were undertaken by the Clinton Administration in 1999, but subsequently curtailed by the Bush Administration in 2003-2004. 

Legislative Action in the 112th Congress 

In the first session of the 112th Congress, there were several attempts aimed at rolling back the Obama Administration’s actions easing restrictions on travel and remittances. The House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would have rolled back President Obama’s easing of restrictions on remittances and family travel; efforts to include the provision in an FY2012 “megabus” appropriations measure, H.R. 2055, were unsuccessful. (Notably in the second session, neither the House or Senate Appropriations Committee-reported versions of the FY2013 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations measure, H.R. 6020 and S. 3301 respectively, have provisions regarding U.S. restrictions on travel or remittances to Cuba.) Among other measures, H.R. 2583, the FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, would require enforcement of travel regulations as in effect on January 19, 2009, and H.R. 2831 would amend the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 in an attempt to curb frequent travel to Cuba by Cubans who have recently emigrated to the United States.

Date of Report: July 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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