US Visa Required for Travelers who have Visited Cuba Since March 2011
This article predates a change to the rules in 2023; read our article on the current rules on ESTA eligibility and previous travel to Cuba.
Most visitors to the US will make use of the ESTA scheme, which allows nationals of certain countries to come to the US on a short term basis without the cost, time and effort of having to secure a visa.
However, a little-known rule is resulting in otherwise qualifying travelers being ineligible for ESTA authorization.
Under the restriction, foreign nationals who have previously traveled to Cuba since March 1 2011 are not eligible to travel visa-free under ESTA.
The rule was put in place by former President Trump in January 2021, when he added Cuba to the list of American “state sponsors of terrorism” (SST), alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria. Since President Biden has taken Office, the rule has not been changed and remains in full effect.
This means that foreign nationals who have traveled to Cuba in the past 11 years and who want to travel to the US now have to go through the visa application process.
A statement by the US State Department to UK newspaper, The Independent, said: “Any visit to an SST on or after March 1, 2011, even if the country was designated yesterday, renders the applicant ineligible for ESTA.”
Anyone caught by the rule is recommended to take advice on their immigration options, not least since US visa processing continues to be subject to extensive delays due to COVID backlogs.
Visa applicants are now being advised to expect to wait several months between paying their application fee and scheduling a visa appointment. For British nationals, interviews take place at either the US Embassy in London or the consulate-general in Belfast.
Visa applications also have a higher fee than ESTA; while ESTA applications cost $21, a US visitor visa application will cost $160.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.