Historic tensions between the US and Cuba have made travel between the two countries problematic. It’s not going to get any easier either. The new president-elect, Donald Trump is no fan of their communist regime. But with Fidel Castro’s death at the end of November, there may be some change in attitude.
Many exiled Cubans in the States will perhaps be closer to the dream of returning home. In parts of Miami people have been celebrating. Some of the families there have lived outside their home land for decades but have not lost hope. Castro’s death won’t have an immediate effect with regards to their freedom and rights but it is significant.
Against this news, it is timely to look at the process should a Cuban national want to visit the United States. In recent years there has been a softening in attitudes but it remains controversial. Cuban officials have generally had visa applications rejected but Obama has been more sympathetic. For instance, in 2012 they granted Castro’s daughter a visa, causing some outrage.
The US runs a visa waiver scheme which is available to nationals from a list of selected countries. If you don’t have a visa for entry, but you’re from certain parts of Europe or Australasia, you can apply for ESTA online approval. Cuba is not on that list and despite legislation softening, people will find it hard to get approval. In October 2016 new regulations made changes to ease US-Cuba travel restrictions. US immigration now says that Cubans are eligible for most standard US visas. But this isn’t reciprocated by the Cuban government.
When you look at how many visa applications the US government rejects, it explains why Cuba has such a problem with reciprocation. In 2008 45.2% were rejected, followed by 66.2% in 2014, with a jump to 76.03% in 2015. People may be eligible but they are being rejected and it’s a massive increase in a relatively short period. The reason for this high rejection rate is the ability – or lack thereof – to prove intent. The prospective traveller has to reassure immigration that they will leave the US when they say they will. This is why they need information about the applicant’s personal circumstances and reasons for travel.
This discriminates against younger applicants. The fear is that once these young people are on American soil, they will deploy the ‘wet feet, dry feet’ argument to stay. The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) says that Cubans who reach US shores can apply for permanent residence. And given that most people are successful, immigration officials are keen to ensure this method isn’t used.
As we have seen across the globe, immigration remains subject to political whim. Despite Obama’s liberal stance, Cuban visa rejections rose. The death of the Cuban revolutionary figurehead may help the country further their trade interests with neighbouring states. But trade requires travel and this will require further easing of US visa requirements. However, although President-Elect Trump cannot be predicted, his attitude to immigration is well established. We can only hope for the best for people wanting to travel.
By January 2020 certain prospective visitors to the Schengen zone will be required to obtain permission to enter it before they travel. There has been speculation in the press about the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), and as of 16 November 2016, we have a clearer idea of its implementation and how it will work in practice.
ETIAS is the EU’s version of the US ESTA scheme. It was announced in September 2016’s State of the Union address, where President Juncker provided an outline of all planned EU-wide initiatives. However, as promised, the EU Commission recently released a detailed proposal about the scheme. To become law across the EU, it will have to go before the European Parliament and Council.
Who will be affected by this?
People who have applied for, and carry visas are well documented. The authorities feel that they don’t know enough about other travellers who do not have visas and are not EU citizens; so-called ‘visa-exempt third country nationals’. Everyone in this category will have to pay to undergo an online security check before travelling. They say if they know who is travelling and where, it will make borders more secure.
When we leave the EU, people with a UK passport entering the Schengen zone will also be subject to this check.
We are facing global threats which necessitate costly checks on predominantly innocent people. The atrocities committed by terrorists within the Schengen zone have shaken the ideological foundations of the Union. The desire for open borders post-WW2 has sadly given way to an insecure feeling modern world.
What will be checked and how?
The system is promising to be quick and simple. You will access the service from the official app or website, and enter your passport and contact details. It will check and verify your information with cross-border databases, e.g., Interpol, Europol, Eurodac, the ETIAS watch-list. If there is a suggestion that you pose a risk to security or public health you will be denied authorisation for travel. However in the majority of cases, there will be no hits and authorisation should arrive in a matter of minutes. They are proposing that it will cost €5 per person over the age of 18 and will be valid for 5 years.
If you are denied permission you are allowed to appeal. They indicate that you will have to check with the country which has refused you entry, and it will be subject to their national laws.
Ironically the members of the European Parliament were critical of the US ESTA scheme when it was launched. As it was originally justified as a tourist tax, they worried about how the scheme would impact on tourism; however, the focus is now unashamedly on security. It will be interesting to hear the up-coming parliamentary debates on ETIAS and how the changing climate of fear will appear in the rhetoric.
The certainty that the UK will be leaving the European Union is one of the most significant political event to occur in many years. Rarely has there been so much discussion about a single article of a European treaty outside the legal community, but now everyone appears to be an Article 50 expert.
Brexit will have an impact on many areas of our lives, but of immediate area of concern for British passport holders is the future of Eurozone travel. From what the prime minister has said about immigration and freedom of movement so far, it seems likely borders will become more restrictive, and we may have to apply and pay a fee to cross them.
UK made over 30 million visits to EU in 2015
UK nationals take it for granted that they can freely hop on a flight, train or ferry to anywhere in the European Union or European Economic Area, from Iceland to Greece, Madeira to Latvia. The latest Office of National Statistics Travel Trends 2015 demonstrates how important this is as there were an astonishing 30+ million holiday trips to EU countries last year. However if the UK is going require more stringent checks on visitor of all kinds, then the reverse is true. Holiday makers must accept that Brexit will adversely affect their EU travel plans.
Proposal of a European Travel Information and Authorisation System
The Commission says that ‘ETIAS would determine the eligibility of all visa-exempt third country nationals to travel to the Schengen Area, and whether such travel poses a security or migration risk. Information on travellers would be gathered prior to their trip’. Consultation and further information will be published in November 2016 but it has been reported that France and Germany both back a system based on the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization scheme.
US Electronic System for Travel Authorization scheme
ESTA is an automated system that helps check an individual’s eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). On payment of a fee, it essentially checks whether you are a law enforcement or security risk, and you are then cleared for travel – or not.
Information that you are obliged to share, including biometric data via fingerprinting and facial scans, is stored upwards of 12 years and safely kept for ‘security purposes’. People who already have a valid visa to travel to the States are not obliged to apply using ESTA.
Currently, although UK nationals must show a valid passport to enter the 26-country Schengen zone, they can then travel freely within it. But what happens after Brexit is anyone’s guess. If ETIAS goes ahead, and without a sensible travel agreement being negotiated, it seems likely that British passport holders will have to apply and pay for permission to enter and travel within this area. There are many details to be worked out, but it is certain that EU travel will never be as simple or as cheap as it has been.
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Are you travelling to the US soon? Despite the recent fall in the pound, the reasons to go this time of year are many; for instance, the dramatic autumnal leaves display in rural New England, traditional Halloween celebrations in Salem, or even just a pre-Christmas shopping session in New York. But whatever your reason, there are a number of potentially trip-spoiling administrative tasks to sort out before packing your bags. Below I outline some of the new rules and regulations you should take into account.
There were a number of reports in the UK press earlier this year which discussed the impact of a relatively obscure piece of US legislation. It was introduced by the US government as a response to the tragic San Bernadino shooting, and their growing fear around global security. Therefore visitors need to be aware of ‘improvements’ the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015 made to the existing visa waiver programme (VWP).
Originally the VWP was created to allow and encourage freedom of travel, unlike the more stringent and complicated visa system. Provided you weren’t going there to study, work, or look for permanent residence, it enabled most people from many parts of the world to travel to the United States without a visa. So in reality what do these changes mean for eligible visa-free tourists?
The first major issue might be your passport. Many issues that British tourists faced were caused by old type passports. Although there are relatively few left in circulation, a number of people were left unhappy and out of pocket when they got to the airport and weren’t allowed to check in. If you still have a passport that was issued prior to 2007, it is urgently recommended that you get a new biometric ‘e-passport’. These are the only ones now accepted by the US authorities.
In addition to being able to travel to the US, there are other good reason for getting your passport replaced. Although you can wait in line to get your passport checked by an immigration official if you wish, with an e-passport you can use the new automatic gates at passport control. Simply place your open passport on the glass panel, wait a few seconds, and the gate opens. Anything which reduces the stressful wait at airport immigration is a bonus!
Secondly you are now required to register your details online via the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) website. This is an automated system and determines your eligibility for travel. It is strongly recommended that you check your ESTA status prior to making any travel reservations or travelling to the United States. There is a fee payable for this mandatory service but it is valid for a couple of years.
As airlines and tour operators have made clear, it is your responsibility to ensure you have the right documentation before you travel. Always double check with your operator if you are in any doubt, and don’t allow any travel hiccups to jeopardise your precious holiday time abroad.