The United States recently made it more difficult to obtain an ESTA if you have travelled to Cuba since January of 2021. This recent change to the system has caused a lot of confusion, and there has been a lot of chaos regarding knowing whether you can still fly or not, if you can take a Caribbean Cruise, or what the exact details are.
Will this affect your trip to America? And can you still Apply for an ESTA after all?
Cuba now a “State Sponsors of Terrorism”
The United States maintains a list of countries it considers “state sponsors of terrorism”. One of Trump’s final moves on his way out of office was to add Cuba to this list, which includes 3 other countries: North Korea, Iran and Syria. However, this bill did not go into effect on January 12, 2021. Since the rule has been established, there has been much chaos and confusion as to the exact details of the rule.
The idea behind this list is that the US State Department determines that the countries on this list have “supported acts of international terrorism”. However, the US government has no evidence of this.
The Cuban government recently asked the US president if Cuba could be removed from this list, but America has so far not responded.
Can I still apply for an ESTA?
When the rule was first put into place, it was assumed that if you have been to Cuba in the past at any time, chances are your ESTA application would be rejected. However, although the current ESTA website is not very clear, many embassies and news sources have stipulated that the current cut-off date for rejection is 12 January 2021, the same date as the initiation of the bill.
As for residents of Spain who have Cuban descent or heritage, there is also a bit of uncertainty whether there is a possibility of rejection. Fo now, it seems as though it is still very much worth applying for an ESTA if you have a Spanish or European passport that falls under the ESTA program. Currently, the visa waiver countries that qualify for the ESTA include the UK, Schengen Europe, Australia, and a list totalling 40 countries.
It is always possible to apply for an ESTA if you have a passport from any of these countries. If you are of Cuban descent and still hold or held a passport at any point, it is always wise to indicate this on the ESTA form. If you have not visited Cuba since January 2021, your ESTA may well be approved.
ESTA or visa?
Most citizens of the UK and the EU meet the requirements of the ESTA. However, it is always a good idea to make sure you qualify in advance. If you have been to Cuba since January of 2021, then it is very likely you will not receive approval for an ESTA and will need a visa instead. If this is the case, then it is wise to start applying for a visa as far in advance as possible. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, there has been quite a backlog to make an appointment at local embassies. For those with family members in the USA, if you know that you have been to Cuba, it is smart to start applying for a visa now, even if you do not intend to visit right away, as it might be quite a long process.
In these cases, you do indeed need to go to an embassy or consulate. And the process can be quite long. It is possible that you may be able to apply for an interview waiver, in which case you can mail in your visa application instead of doing so in person. In these cases, you must have had a previous visa for the USA.