A bonkers US rule brands me a terrorist because of a Cuba passport stamp


I want to travel to Florida in March to take part in a yacht race. However, in 2019, competitors (including Americans) sailed to Cuba to begin the race back to Florida, and my passport was stamped by Cuban border control. Because of that, I have to make an appointment to obtain a visa to enter the US, as Cuba has been classified as a supporter of terrorism. I’ve paid the £147 application fee, but the online booking form has no available dates. It seems wrong to take payment for a service that is not supplied, with no refunds.
DP, Truro, Cornwall

One of Donald Trump’s final legacies was to class Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” (SST). This means anyone who has visited the island no longer qualifies for a cheap and easy Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver to enter the US as a visitor. Instead, they have to pay the fee and undergo an interview for a non-immigrant visa. The rule ranks Cuba with Syria and North Korea, and assumes holidaymakers are complicit in terror activity.

A bonkers rule is compounded by contradictory advice. The US state department declares the rules apply to everyone who has visited Cuba since 1 March 2011. However, crucially, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), states only those who visited after 12 January 2021, when Cuba was added to SST list, are affected. Neither the US Customs and Border Protection agency, or the US embassy in London, specify a date, or even include Cuba in their summary of non-ESTA countries.

The fee is demanded before travellers can book an appointment, so they only discover availability (or lack of it) once they have paid, by which time a delay might scupper their plans. The US’s Bureau of Consular Affairs advises, blithely, that wait times depend on staffing and workload. At the time of writing, that wait time in London is 78 days. The embassy told me helpfully that applicants are “welcome to travel to locations with shorter wait times”. Given London is the only UK location for appointments, that’s expensive advice. It adds: “We are quickly lowering visa interview wait times worldwide. ”

You’ve since found that five appointments have been released for June – far too late for your trip.

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