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Holiday destinations in US were among most expensive in the world before travel restrictions were eased
The US is gradually unwinding travel restrictions to the Caribbean, the Italian islands and the Middle East, the Trump administration has said, even as countries continue to expel Americans over suspected terrorism.
In all, 10 countries are expected to return to the list of designated terrorism-risk countries by the end of the year, the Department of Homeland Security said in a document. Those remaining include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, and Israel.
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Holiday destinations such as the Dominican Republic and Cuba – among the most expensive in the world before the Trump administration’s travel ban – will have “full liberalization”, while Mauritius, the Bahamas, Oman and Mauritius are set to have “limited liberalization”, the DHS said.
Three are set to return to a blacklist: Curaçao, Guinea Bissau and Saint Martin.
Under US law, designated countries that fail to improve their counter-terrorism screening can be cut off from foreign travel restrictions and funding.
Despite the reductions, over the last two years the United States has found it difficult to enforce travel bans on countries on its terrorist watchlist that over the past three years have lost about 5% of their populations, the document showed.
The impact of the restrictions was at its greatest on Cuba and Syria, but the numbers of Americans traveling to these countries have shrunk after they became blacklisted, the DHS said.
“Several countries have decreased the number of law enforcement officers and are improving controls as a result of the evidence-based, targeted nature of these counter-terrorism criteria,” the document said.
Still, the World Bank estimates there were 1.35 million US tourists visiting Cuba in 2017, up 3.5% from 2016 and the most by far, while the US Census Bureau put the 2017 figure at 1.43 million.
Imports from Cuba have also been on the rise, totaling $1.17bn in 2017, with travel-related products accounting for the majority of the amount, according to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
Elsewhere, the vast majority of travel bans on designated countries have been lifted since 2017, but restrictions on Cuba remain in place.
“There has been some reduction in Americans traveling to destinations that may have been on the terrorist watchlist in the past, but it still remains a prohibited travel destination,” a DHS official told reporters.
Last month, Panama gave back its list of six countries where US citizens were banned from travelling and from buying trips to the region.
The re-opening of commercial air links to the region is helping to boost tourism numbers. Air service to Andorra, for example, was restored in March this year.