The Biden administration on Monday said it is easing restrictions imposed during former President Donald Trump‘s administration on travel to Cuba and on the sending of family remittances between the United States and the communist island.
“The Cuban people are confronting an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and our policy will continue to focus on empowering the Cuban people to help them create a future free from repression and economic suffering,” the State Department said.
The loosening of the embargo on Cuba will see increased visa processing, including at the Havana consulate, but with most visas still handled at the US embassy in Guyana.
The statement said it will “facilitate educational connections” between the two countries, as well as support for professional research including “support for expanded internet access and remittance process companies.”
The administration is also relaunching the Cuban Family Reunification Program, which allows eligible U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for parole for their family members in Cuba. If approved, those family members can come to the U.S. in an expedited fashion.
To boost the flow of remittances, the US government will lift the current limit of $1,000 per quarter for each sender, and also allow non-family remittances to “support independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”
Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, tweeted that the move was “a small step in the right direction,” but emphasized that it does “not modify the embargo” in place since 1962.
“Neither the objectives nor the main instruments of the United States’ policy against Cuba, which is a failure, are changing,” he wrote.
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, criticized the Biden administration for the changes.
“I am dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism. To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial,” Menendez said.
“For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed. For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom and nothing changed. And as I warned then, the regime ultimately laughed off any promises of loosening its iron grip on the Cuban people and we ended up helping fund the machinery behind their continued oppression,” he added.
The Biden administration framed the new policies as an effort to engage with the Cuban people and “support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home.”