In one of his last acts as US president, Donald Trump added Cuba to the American list of “state sponsors of terrorism” (SST). His successor, Joe Biden, has left the designation in place.
As a result, any British holidaymaker who has been to Cuba in the past 11 years is disqualified from using the “Esta” scheme, with which the vast majority of UK travelers visit the US. They must instead pay £137 for a visa – and wait months for an interview appointment.
A family of four who have visited the Caribbean’s largest island and now want to go to the US face a bill of over £500 to comply with the rule.
The outgoing president put Cuba on the same list as Iran, North Korea and Syria on 11 January 2021 – barely a week before he was replaced by Mr Biden.
The classification is applied to nations that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”.
The government in Havana strenuously rejects the accusation.
But its effect is to disqualify any prospective visitor to the US who has been in Cuba since 1 March 2011 from using the swift online application process known as Esta (the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation).
The Independent has been told by the US State Department: “Any visit to an SST on or after March 1, 2011, even if the country was designated yesterday, rendering the applicant ineligible for Esta.”
Instead, they must try to get a tourist visa – which requires payment of $160 (£137) and for the traveler to attend an appointment at the US embassy in London or the consulate-general in Belfast.
But because of the delays incurred during the coronavirus pandemic, there is a serious backlog of appointments.
The US embassy in London says: “Please note that due to an increasing backlog of visa appointment requests, you may experience a significant delay between paying your visa fee and scheduling an interview appointment.
“By paying the visa fee, you acknowledge that it may take several months to schedule an interview appointment.”
Anyone who has been to Cuba and obtains Esta clearance for the US will be breaching the rules, and could in theory be turned away upon arrival
But some travelers have told The Independent that they have successfully visited the US using passports issued since their trips to Cuba.
Earlier this month, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, described the US position as “illegitimate, unsustainable and immoral”.