Just days before President Barack Obama?s historic trip to Cuba, the administration announced new regulations Tuesday that will allow individuals to travel to the island on their own people-to-people trips, permit the use of U.S. dollars in more transactions with the island and further relax restrictions on doing business.
The new regulations, the fifth round of changes in the past year, will take effect Wednesday. They include:
?Individual travel ? Americans on people-to-people educational tours to the island used to have to travel in organized groups. Now they can plan their own itineraries as long as they keep records showing they?ve engaged in a full-time schedule of educational exchanges.
?This change is intended to make authorized educational trade to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for U.S. citizens and will increase opportunities for direct engagement between Cubans and Americans,? the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
Individual travelers can also make trips under the auspices of an organization that sponsors people-to-people exchanges in which case the burden of record-keeping falls to the sponsor.
?Banking regulations ? Treasury outlined a series of new banking regulations that could ease bankers? reluctance to engage with Cuba. The new rules make it clear that U.S. financial institutions will be able to process cash, travelers checks and other U.S. dollar-denominated monetary instruments indirectly presented by Cuban financial institutions.
Correspondent accounts at third-country financial instruments also may be denominated in U.S. dollars, and U.S. banks will be allowed to open and maintain bank accounts for Cuban citizens in Cuba who receive payments in the United States for authorized transactions and send those payments to Cuba.
Funds may also be transferred from a bank outside the United States, pass through U.S. financial institutions and then be transferred to a bank outside the United States without worry about the stiff penalties of the past.
?Hiring ? U.S. companies can hire Cuban nationals, in a non-immigrant status, to work or perform in the United States provided that no additional payments are made to the Cuban government related to their sponsorship or hiring. That means Cuban athletes, artists, performers and others who obtain the necessary visas will be allowed to come to the United States and earn salaries and stipends above their basic living expenses.
Since the United States and Cuba began normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014, the United States has issued a series of regulations that make it easier to do business with Cuba and for Americans to travel to the island ? even though the U.S. embargo still remains in place.
?Today?s amendments build upon President Obama?s historic actions to improve our country?s relationship with Cuba and its people,? said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. ?These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba?s citizens.?
Obama is scheduled to travel to Cuba March 20-22 on the first visit to the island by a sitting American president in nearly 90 years.