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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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 Initiatives 

There were several attempts in the 112
th Congress aimed at rolling back the Obama Administration’s actions easing restrictions on travel and remittances, but none of these were approved. Several legislative initiatives were also introduced that would have further eased or lifted such restrictions altogether, but no action was taken on these measures.

To date in the 113
th Congress, the House version of the FY2014 Financial Services and General Government appropriations measure, H.R. 2786 (H.Rept. 113-172), would prohibit FY2014 funding used “to approve, license, facilitate, authorize, or otherwise allow” people-to-people travel to Cuba. In contrast, the Senate version of the measure, S. 1371 (S.Rept. 113-80), would expand the current general license for professional research and meetings in Cuba to allow U.S. groups to sponsor and organize conferences in Cuba, but only if specifically related to disaster prevention, emergency preparedness, and natural resource protection. Neither of these measures were considered by the beginning of FY2014 on October 1, 2013. Instead on October 16,
Congress approved a continuing resolution (P.L. 113-46) to fund FY2014 appropriations through January 15, 2014; it still faces action on appropriations for the balance of FY2014.

As in past Congresses, several legislative initiatives again have been introduced that would lift all travel restrictions: H.R. 871 (Rangel) would lift travel restrictions; H.R. 873 (Rangel) would lift travel restrictions and restrictions on U.S. agricultural exports; and H.R. 214 (Serrano), H.R. 872 (Rangel), and H.R. 1917 would lift the overall embargo, including travel restrictions.

For further information, see CRS Report R43024, Cuba: U.S. Policy and Issues for the 113
th Congress, by Mark P. Sullivan.

Date of Report: November 1, 2013
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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