For the hundreds of thousands of UK and European citizens who have visited Cuba and its beaches in the last eleven years, the U.S. government has a penalty in place. Instead of using the easily-obtained ESTA and visa waiver system, they will now need to apply for a $160 one-time tourist visa.
In one of his last acts as President, Donald Trump added Cuba to the U.S. State Department's list of 'state sponsors of international terrorism, a status Cuba hotly denies. The other countries on the list are Iran, North Korea and Syria. President Biden has left the list as is. The ban applies to any trips after March 1, 2011, even if a country was added to the list later.
In contrast to the $21 fee and two-year validity for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), a tourist visa is only good for a specific trip. For a family of four who vacationed on a Cuban beach a few years ago, it will now add $640 to the cost of visiting the U.S.
As well, while the ESTA takes minutes online, the tourist visa is available only at U.S. consulates and requires an in-person interview. The State Department has acknowledged to The Independent (UK) that the wait for appointments is now months long; the U.S. embassy in London tells applicants to “Please note that due to an increasing backlog of visa appointment requests, you may experience a significant delay between paying your visa fee and scheduling an interview appointment. By paying the visa fee, you acknowledge that it may take several months to schedule an interview appointment.”
Which, of course means, that potential visitors might have hundreds of dollars tied up in non-refundable visa fees while unable to make travel or lodging arrangements because they do not know when, or whether, they will be approved.
If the aim of this process is to discourage visits to Cuba, it might turn out to have the opposite effect: "Honey, no way to tell if we can take that trip to the Grand Canyon and Orlando or how many deposits we might lose. Let's just cancel the idea and vacation in Cuba, instead!"
Photo: Costa Verde, Cuba (GarryRF/TravelGumbo)