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How the new travel policy to Cuba affects the Stanford community

March 06, 2015

On Jan. 16, 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published policy changes previously announced by President Obama to further engage and empower the Cuban people. These changes include relaxed restrictions on U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. The Office of International Affairs met with Stanford University’s Director of Export Compliance, Steve Eisner, to see how these changes will affect the Stanford community. Steve is a member of Ann Arvin’s staff in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research.

OIA: How do the relaxed travel restrictions affect Stanford faculty?

Steve Eisner: These changes will affect the Stanford community positively. For example, they reduce burdensome licensing requirements on selected areas of activity involving a Stanford scholar’s ability to conduct research in Cuba and to attend professional meetings. However, Cuba – like Iran, Crimea, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea - remains under a comprehensive U.S. embargo and only certain specified travel has been removed from export licensing requirements. If Stanford business requires faculty to travel to Cuba, I still need to be contacted for approval since the Dean of Research Office oversees export and trade sanctions compliance for the University.

OIA: What does the approval process entail?

Steve Eisner: I will conduct an export license review of the proposed activity to ensure that it’s consistent with the new license exemptions, which are still complex and nuanced, and provide guidance on recordkeeping and reporting requirements. I’ll also notify Financial Management Systems (FMS) that travel advances and post-travel reimbursement requests have been approved for export control and may be disbursed. FMS will not disburse expenditures associated with travel to comprehensively trade sanctioned countries like Cuba without my written approval, as described on FMS website’s Policy Notes page.

OIA: How do these changes affect undergraduate and graduate students?

Steve Eisner: Undergraduate and graduate students traveling to Cuba to conduct “non commercial academic research” specifically related to Cuba will no longer require a written statement from me to share with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel upon their return. The letter was used by the DHS to confirm and validate a student’s receipt of academic credit for their work on the island from a designated institutional official. Even without this letter, I would like to emphasize that receipt of academic credit is still a baseline federal requirement for almost all student activity in Cuba, including student research.

I would like to emphasize again, undergraduate students who wish to travel to Cuba first must have received approval for a research project from Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR), or an approved project from the Haas Center for Public Service, that would meet their funding and other requirements. At that point, Haas and UAR will refer the students to me for an export control review. In short, the export control review and approval process for undergraduate and graduate travel to Cuba is the same as for faculty – Dean of Research Office review and approval is still mandatory.

OIA: If my travel to Cuba is approved, what are other precautions I should take?

Steve Eisner: As with any international travel, I highly encourage travelers to register their travel with the OIA travel registry. The most important reason being that we want to know how we can reach our travelers in the event of an international emergency.

OIA: What if I need to hand carry or ship something to Cuba?

Steve Eisner: Great news here. The Commerce Department published policy changes at the same time as the Department of Treasury, which exempted most retail-level communications equipment like laptops and smartphones from export licensing requirements. Commerce also created a “temporary export” exemption that permits low-level equipment, software and technology to be hand carried or shipped to Cuba without an export license as long as the equipment or technology will return to the U.S. within 24 months from the date it left. Again, these exemptions have some exacting conditions that need to be met, so I still need to be contacted for an export license review. As I mentioned, one of these conditions is that the items may not be identified on U.S. export control lists at a higher level of concern. I create value for the Stanford community by including a technical export control list assessment of what is to be shipped or hand carried to Cuba as part of my export licensing review.

The opening of Cuba to the West is an exciting milestone and yet we still want to ensure that we keep our community safe and compliant. For additional information, please refer to the following New York Times article that provides useful general information. If you have additional questions about travel to Cuba, please contact Steve Eisner at or 724-7072.