The recent surprise announcement from the White House that the U.S will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba will affect many areas currently restricted, with opportunities for broadening academic travel an exciting potential.
Expanding academic travel to the island nation will add to the steps President Obama has already taken to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba. In 2011 Obama implemented regulations that granted accredited American universities the power to sponsor credit-bearing study abroad programs in Cuba under what is termed a “general license,” eliminating the need to apply for a ”specific license” from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the government body that enforces the long-standing trade embargo against Cuba. The 2011 regulations allowed study abroad provider organizations, such as universities, to apply for specific licenses to sponsor educational programs in Cuba.
President Obama’s December 17 announcement that partly relates to all travel to Cuba, educational and otherwise, assures further easing of restrictions. According to a White House press release , general licenses will be available to “all authorized travelers” in the 12 categories, a number of of which are education or research related and will impact students or faculty.
Obama also announced plans to ease restrictions on banking that consequently will allow U.S. travelers to Cuba to use credit and debit cards in the island nation.
According to Victor C. Johnson, senior advisor for public policy for NSFSA, Association of International Educators, U.S. universities got “90-plus percent” of what they wanted in regard to academic travel with the 2011 regulations, however the newly announced changes would “mop up” some restrictions that remain. Yet, it is crucial to note that nothing about Obama’s declared changes is certain until the Department of Treasury publishes new regulations.
Johnson added, “It appears that it will remove the remaining restrictions on academic conferences in Cuba; it’s going to make it possible to study not for credit under a general license which was not the case under the regs (Obama) announced in 2011.”
John McAuliff, the executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a nongovernmental organization that has advocated for the normalization of U.S.- Cuba relations said, “One very important thing is people can go to study language whether theyʼre matriculated in a U.S. university or not.”
“Anything that falls into these 12 categories, which are very broad, is under a general license, which means you donʼt have to apply for it.”
McAuliff added that Obama’s announcement would likely ease some of the bureaucratic hurdles and also simplify the process for institutions offering study abroad programs, plus help open the way for “all kinds of student-initiated things and more informal projects.’
Another big plus that Obama announced, and somewhat on the lighter side, is that American travelers will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of Cuban goods – including up to $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol products.
For now, it is a wait-and-see moment. The times they are a-changing.
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