The Obama administration’s January 14 announcement that it is lifting some government-imposed restrictions on travel to Cuba for several categories of U.S. citizens —including college students, people engaged in journalism, and those sponsored by religious organizations — represents a new opportunity for a wider segment of Americans to learn about Cuba firsthand.
Under the new policy, which is still being finalized, students from accredited colleges and universities will be able to travel to Cuba on what is known as a “general” license, meaning they don’t have to seek individual permission from the government as long as they meet certain criteria that are still being determined. This also applies to Americans traveling there for “journalistic activities” or under the auspices of religious groups.
In addition, non-profit organizations such as Global Exchange will once again be able to apply to the Treasury Department for a license to arrange “people to people” travel to Cuba, which it did through its Reality Tours program from 2000 to 2004. In 2004, however, the Bush administration restricted the number of Americans allowed to travel to Cuba to a handful of specific professions, such as full-time journalists and academics. Despite various government restrictions, more than 15,000 people have traveled to Cuba as part of a Reality Tours trip in the past 22 years.