Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) each announced changes to the Cuba sanctions rules. OFAC is amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to end group educational or cultural visits referred to as "people-to-people" educational travel, one of the major categories permitting non-family travel to Cuba. People-to-people educational travel that was previously authorized will be allowed where the traveler has already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019. These amendments follow similar changes to CACR made on November 9, 2017 that removed authorization for individual people-to-people visits to Cuba. OFAC also released an updated set of frequently asked questions regarding Cuba sanctions.

As a result of the changes to CACR, permissible educational travel to Cuba will largely be limited to trips in connection with programs of U.S. academic institutions.[1] The CACR amendments are expected to take effect June 5, 2019 upon publication in the Federal Register and OFAC will apply a policy of denial with respect to applications for a specific license authorizing people-to-people travel and related transactions. The provision of commercial air travel between the United States and Cuba to persons qualifying for the narrowed categories of permitted travel remains authorized.

BIS is amending the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to make passenger and recreational vessels and private and corporate general aviation aircraft ineligible for a license exception permitting travel to Cuba. BIS will also apply a general policy of denial of licenses to recreational vessels and private and corporate aircraft absent a U.S. foreign policy or national security interest. BIS published an updated set of frequently asked questions regarding Cuba export controls.

Since flying an aircraft or sailing a vessel to Cuba (even temporarily) constitutes an export or re-export to Cuba and must be licensed by BIS or qualify for a license exception, private and corporate general aviation aircraft, cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels subject to the EAR generally will now be prohibited from going to Cuba. Commercial aircraft operating under certain certificates issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or pursuant to operating specifications approved by the FAA and cargo vessels for hire for use in the transportation of separately authorized items on temporary sojourn to Cuba will continue to be eligible for a license exception. The EAR amendments are expected to take effect June 5, 2019 upon publication in the Federal Register.

[1] See 31 CFR § 515.565(a).

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