US President Barack Obama has said he will ease restrictions on US citizens travelling to Cuba.
The president said he had instructed the relevant government departments to allow religious groups and students to travel to the communist-run island.
President Obama said he believed the new, more relaxed, rules which also make it easier to send remittances to Cuba will support civil society there.
The changes will not end the decades-old US trade embargo.
The rules will be modified to, among other things:
- Allow religious organisations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general licence
- Allow accredited institutions of higher education to sponsor travel to Cuba
- Allow any US person to send remittances (up to $500 per quarter) to non-family members in Cuba to support private economic activity
- Allow remittances to be sent to religious institutions in Cuba in support of religious activities
- Allow US airports to apply to provide services to licensed charters
In a statement, President Obama said the changes were aimed at developing "people-to-people" contacts through more academic, cultural and religious exchanges.
The moves follows an easing of restrictions in April 2009, when the president ordered curbs on remittances and travel by Cuban-Americans visiting family members on the island to be relaxed.
But Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the changes would not help improve the situation in Cuba.
"They will not make the Castro regime show respect for human rights, and they certainly won't help the Cuban people free themselves from the despotic tyranny which oppresses them," she said.
The changes are expected to come into force in approximately three weeks.