Under the new rules, individuals can to take study trips to Cuba, provided they engage in “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities”.
“This change is intended to make authorised educational travel to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for US citizens”
The US Treasury statement announcing the changes also stipulates that exchanges must “result in a meaningful interaction between the traveller and individuals in Cuba”.
Previously, only group study trips to Cuba as part of a group led by an organisation that is subject to a US jurisdiction have been permitted.
“This change is intended to make authorised educational travel to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for US citizens, and will increase opportunities for direct engagement between Cubans and Americans,” the statement adds.
Meanwhile, during a meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro this week, Obama announced that the Cuban-American community has donated $1m to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas fund, the flagship initiative to build education travel and collaboration between the US and the Americas.
“We’re moving ahead with more educational exchanges,” he said.
“Thanks to the generous support of the Cuban-American community, I can announce that my 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative will offer new opportunities for university students to study abroad, more Americans at Cuban schools and more Cubans at US schools.”
The funding will support regional collaboration and two-way student mobility in fields such as entrepreneurship, agricultural management, environmental and sustainable energy, language learning and cultural collaborations.
“We’re moving ahead with more educational exchanges”
NAFSA, which launched two initiatives to build academic relationships and student mobility between the two countries earlier this year, welcomed the two announcements and commended Obama’s focus on educational exchanges with Cuba.
The association’s executive director and CEO, Marlene Johnson, said that the changes are a “positive step forward” but added that they “will not end this 50-year-old failed policy of isolation”.
“Legislative action must accompany executive action in order to codify this into law, freeing Americans to travel and conduct education and business interactions with Cuba as freely as we are permitted to do so with every other country in the world,” she urged.
The changes to restrictions on educational travel were part of a fifth round of new rules affecting travel to Cuba that have been announced since Obama said the US would begin restoring economic and diplomatic ties with the country in 2014.
With the easing of travel restrictions, visitors from the US to Cuba have surged, with more than 160,000 visiting the country last year.
The latest rule changes also mean that Cuban athletes, artists and performers are now able to earn a salary in the US without obtaining immigrant status and ease some restrictions on trade and banking.