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United States Announces ESTA Ineligibility for Recent Visitors to Cuba

Posted by Hugo R. Valverde, Managing Attorney, and Anna D. Colby, Attorney Social Media Marketing Manager | Aug 18, 2023 | 0 Comments

Photo by Alexander Kunze on Unsplash

Are you dreaming of cigars on the beach in Old Havana and vintage cars? 

If you are from a Visa Waiver Program country and planning to visit the United States soon you may want to think again.

The relationship between Cuba and the United States is one fraught with uncertainty - tension that seems to come out publicly only in changing policy announcements. 

Now, the United States has announced a new policy involving Cuba and travelers wishing to come to the U.S. after having recently visited there. 

Two and a half years ago the United States re-designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. That designation, given on January 12, 2021, was given to Cuba because of the safe harbor it has continued to provide to international terrorists as well as several U.S. fugitives from justice. 

Because of that designation, the United States has announced that anyone who has visited Cuba since January 12, 2021 and is from a VWP country will now need a visa to enter the United States. A VWP country is one that is part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program - meaning that normally a citizen of a VWP country can enter the U.S. for a stay of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. But according to the new policy, if a citizen of a VWP country has visited Cuba since the 2021 designation, they will need to apply for a visa to visit the United States. 

This new policy has very few exemptions. Only military personnel and government employees are exempted from the VWP travel restrictions, if their presence in Cuba “was in order to carry out their official duties for military service in the armed forces of a VWP country or as full-time government employees of a VWP country.” 

The policy does not show any relief for dual citizens of Cuba and a VWP country. Rather, even if such a person has not been to Cuba since before the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, because they are a citizen of Cuba they will still have to apply for a visa. 

What if I Have Visited Cuba Recently but already have an Approved ESTA?

If you come from a VWP country and have an already approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), but have visited Cuba since January 12, 2021, you will still have to apply for a visa to visit the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) stated that if an ESTA has already been approved and it is later determined that you have been present in Cuba or hold dual nationality with both a VWP country and Cuba, the ESTA will be revoked.

If you have questions about applying for a visa or immigration petition please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.

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