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  July 22nd, 2016 | Written by

Come Fly with Me … to Cuba!

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  • Authorization of passenger flights between the U.S. and Cuba does not open the floodgates to U.S. travelers.
  • The Office of Foreign Assets Control has granted a general license in only 12 categories of travel to Cuba.
  • U.S. reg: “A person does not qualify...merely because that person is a professional who plans to travel to Cuba.”
  • Tourism is not one of the authorized categories of travel for U.S. persons to Cuba.

A recent move by the Department of Transportation (DOT) will make business travel to Cuba more available. On June 10 the DOT authorized six U.S. airlines to provide scheduled passenger flights between various U.S. cities and cities in Cuba other than Havana. These airlines include: American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver, Southwest and Sun Country.

On July 7 the DOT selected eight airlines to begin scheduled flights to Havana. The proposed Havana airlines include: Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.

While this increases the availability of transportation to Cuba, it does not open the floodgates allowing any U.S. person to travel to Cuba. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has granted a general license—meaning a traveler no longer needs to apply for a specific license prior to travel—in only 12 categories, including family visits, official government business, journalistic activity, professional research and professional meetings, educational activities, religious activities, public performances, support for the Cuban people, humanitarian projects, activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes, activities related to information materials, and activities related to certain authorized export transactions. Importantly, tourism is not one of the authorized categories.

U.S. business travelers will be most interested in the category regarding professional research and professional meetings. When contemplating travel to Cuba, you must research the regulations to determine whether the authorization is applicable. These regulations are found in Title 31 Code of Federal Regulations Part 515, available from the U.S. Government Publishing Office. Other non-government websites may contain outdated versions of the regulations or misleading information.

Travel-related transactions directly incident to professional research are authorized only under the following conditions: (1) The research purpose directly relates to the traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise, including area of graduate-level full-time study; (2) The traveler does not engage in recreational travel, tourist travel, travel in pursuit of a hobby, or research for personal satisfaction only; and (3) The traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule of professional research.

The regulation also includes an important note: “A person does not qualify as engaging in professional research merely because that person is a professional who plans to travel to Cuba.”

Let’s take a look at the “professional meeting” portion of the regulation. A U.S. person may travel to Cuba in order to attend or organize a professional meeting or conference (except for those promoting tourism) in Cuba, as long as the purpose of the meeting directly relates to their profession and is subject to the same limitations stated above.

There is another important note here: “Each person relying on the general authorization in this paragraph must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions.” This authorization is for an individual, not a group.

Bottom line: although the travel windows have opened slightly, the doors are still closed to many who would seek professional meeting authorization. Proceed with caution.

More information can be found here.

Kim Carlson is a senior attorney in the international trade group at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP.