In its most recent move in a series of changes designed to increase engagement between the United States and Cuba, and in line with the Administration’s policy, on March 16, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the existing Cuban Assets Control Regulations (Cuba Sanctions Regulations) in three key areas: (1) travel to Cuba, (2) financial transactions, and (3) establishment of physical presence (local offices) in Cuba. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) amended the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to simplify the transit of authorized cargo through Cuba, while making a more favorable licensing policy for U.S. exports of items that assist the Cuban private sector in exporting its goods.

These changes come a few days before President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, the first time a sitting president has visited Cuba in almost 90 years. While the amended regulations, effective immediately, continue to expand the number and scope of Cuba-related transactions in which U.S. persons can engage, they do not eliminate the United States’ nearly comprehensive embargo on trade with Cuba. U.S. persons may not engage in Cuba-related transactions unless they meet the criteria for license exceptions or exemptions, or are otherwise authorized by specific license from the U.S. government.

OFAC Sanctions Revisions

Specifically, OFAC implemented new measures in the following areas:

1) Travel

Educational travel and exchanges may now be conducted without a sponsoring organization. OFAC is authorizing people-to-people educational travel for individuals as long as the traveler engages in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. The educational exchange must support the U.S. policy of engagement with the Cuban people and the predominant part of the traveler’s activities must not be with Government of Cuba or Cuban Communist Party officials.

2) Salaries for Cuban Nationals

OFAC is authorizing the hiring and payment of salaries to Cuban nationals in the United States on a nonimmigrant status.

3) Cuban-Origin Merchandise

U.S. persons located in a third country may now purchase Cuban-origin merchandise for personal consumption in a third country. They may not, however, bring such Cuban-origin merchandise into the United States, including as accompanied baggage.

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