I am grateful to the Lord that in less than two weeks I will be making my 32nd trip to Cuba. My wife and I are leading a team of eight who will minister at four events: a women’s retreat, men’s retreat, counseling workshops, and a pastors’ conference.
For 30 of those trips, we not only had to obtain from the Cuban government the religious worker’s visa (also called the D-8 visa in Cuba) but we also had to have a valid Cuba travel license from OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control, a department of the US Treasury).
However, in January President Obama changed the longstanding policy, allowing religious groups to travel to Cuba without any specific license or permit needed.
After ten years traveling with the license, I wanted to be sure I understood this new freedom, and in response to my inquiry I received a letter from OFAC which said in part:
“You must demonstrate to the Travel Service Provider [the agency or airline you use to book our travel] that your proposed travel is authorized under the ‘religious activities’ general license. No additional approval from OFAC is necessary . . .”
In practical terms, here is what you now need to do when you travel to Cuba:
1) When you reserve your flights you will be asked to fill out a travel affidavit for each traveler. You can see the one our team was sent by ABC Charters by clicking here.
There is a box on that affidavit that you need to check in order to declare that “I am a member of a U.S. religious organization, and my travel is for participation in a full-time program of religious activities in Cuba.”
2) In addition, you need to provide each traveler with a personally signed letter – on your organization’s letterhead – that confirms the person mentioned in the letter is with your organization and will be engaged in a full-time schedule of religious activities.
The letter needs to be signed by the person in your organization who is responsible for your organization’s Cuba ministry. (I sign the letters on ACTION’s behalf, but in your case it may be your pastor or missions committee chairperson.)
Here is the text I use:
To Whom It May Concern:
Action International Ministries is a 501-c-3 non-profit religious organization with Federal Indentification Number xx-xxxxxxx.
This letter constitutes proof under section 515.566 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulation that:
the bearer of this letter, Mr. Brian Stewart, is a member of our organization and is traveling to Cuba in November of this year, under the auspices of our organization, in order to engage in a full-time schedule of religious activities. Specifically, Mr. Stewart is one of the invited speakers at a spiritual retreat.
Please facilitate for this person a speedy re-entry into the United States. Thank you.
Cuba Ministry Director
(Yes, I make sure to do a letter for myself, as well!)
Each traveler needs to be ready to present an original, hand-signed letter (if asked to do so) when coming back into the US. (So far, when I have re-entered the US at the Miami airport I have not been asked to produce any documentation.)
I also provide copies of these letters to the Travel Service Provider (the agency or airline you use to book our travel) for their files.
I trust this information is helpful to you. Please contact me with any questions you may have.