Agents fear legal action as US visa delays lead to cancellations

By Linsey McNeill
07/10/2022
Home » Agents fear legal action as US visa delays lead to cancellations

Agents are concerned that clients might sue them for selling trips to the US if they’re unable to quickly obtain visitor visas since travelling to Cuba.

Wait times for US visa interviews is longer than 400 days for first-time applicants from the country’s top markets, according to the US Travel Association.

Travellers from the UK have been told by the US Embassy in London that they’ll have to wait at least until next February for a face-to-face interview, which is an essential part of the visa application process.

While most UK travellers can apply online for a visa-waiver (ESTA) instead, those who have been to certain countries deemed by the US to be ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ cannot.

Currently there are four countries designated ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ – Syria, Iran, North Korea and, since 12 January 2021, Cuba.

It is this latest addition that is causing the biggest headache for UK travel agents since the majority of holidaymakers who have visited Cuba wouldn’t have been aware of the restriction when booking trips to the US.

And many travel agents weren’t aware themselves that Cuba had been added to the list by the former President, Donald Trump until it was reported by The Independent last month.

A link to the information has since been placed on the home page of the ESTA website, and ESTA applicants are warned: “If a traveler is found to have visited a country designated as State Sponsor of Terrorism, the traveler is no longer eligible to participate in the Visa Wavier Program and must apply for a visa to enter the United States.”

A visa costs $160 per person, compared to $21 for an ESTA.

Some agents are now concerned that clients will try to hold them liable for the additional cost of the visa or for holiday cancellation costs if clients who’ve previously visited Cuba can’t get one on time.

One agent said a client had already indicated they were planning to claim from him the cost of changing a holiday to the US after they found they weren’t able to obtain a visa before their departure.

Another agent reported that they’d lost a £8,000 booking to Cuba because the client was concerned they’d have to apply for a visa if they travelled to the US in the future.

Can clients who travelled to Cuba before 12 January 2021 apply for an ESTA?

There’s some confusion about whether clients who visited Cuba prior to 12 January 2021 will also need to apply for a visa to visit the US.

There is no information on this on the US ESTA website but some reports have suggested that anyone who has visited Cuba since March 2011 is ineligible for an ESTA. However, several travellers report that they’ve been granted ESTAs even though they had visited Cuba prior to 2021.

Travel Gossip sought written clarification on the new rules from the US state department last week, but we are still waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, specialist operators to Cuba say that since January 2021 immigration officials have stopped stamping passports so there is no record of entry to the island.

Can you apply for an ESTA if you renew your passport?

Some people have suggested that if you’ve replaced your passport since travelling to Cuba you can apply for an ESTA since there will be no stamp in your new document to prove your visit.

Several travellers who have been to Cuba have successfully applied for ESTAs with new passports, but the ESTA website says that if a visitor is ‘found to have visited a country designated as State Sponsor of Terrorism, the traveler is no longer eligible to participate in the Visa Wavier Program’, so there’s a danger they could still be refused entry to the US on arrival.

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