U.S. Residents Can Purchase Visas for Cubans via Electronic Network

The electronic cash transaction network will allow U.S. residents without bank accounts or debit cards to purchase non-immigrant visas for friends or family living in Cuba.

by / May 18, 2015
PayNearMe/Scotty Perkins

The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs is partnering with CGI Federal and electronic cash transaction network PayNearMe to make it easier for residents of Cuba to apply for a visa to visit family or friends in the U.S.

“There is a lot of conversation and excitement right now about the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. opening up,” said Michael Darnaud, vice president of business development for government services at PayNearMe. “But the reality for the time being is there is no U.S. embassy in Cuba, which makes it difficult for Cubans to come and visit the U.S. They can’t just walk into an embassy and apply or pay for their visa application the way people in other countries can.”

Using a website developed by CGI Federal for the U.S. Department of State, U.S. residents can now, at no charge, pay for non-immigrant visas on behalf of friends and family applying through the United States Interests Section in Havana. Americans who have limited or no access to a bank account – or those who simply prefer to transact with cash – can now pay those visa application fees via PayNearMe in their own neighborhood at more than 17,000 7-Eleven, Family Dollar and ACE Cash Express retail stores nationwide. The cash payment option is an alternative to paying with existing methods such as debit card or submitting a request for an automated clearing house (ACH) or wire transfer.

“With an average of 28 percent of the U.S. population now unbanked or underbanked, the cash option is growing in popularity,” said Darnaud, who added that the demand for visas has spiked dramatically over the last six months as relations between the U.S. and Cuba have improved.

To pay for visas with cash, residents can visit the Department of State website, scroll down to the “PayNearMe” section and choose the appropriate action. They will receive a code, which can be printed or sent via mobile device, that is shown at a participating store, where users pay at the register as if they are making a purchase. Users receive a paper receipt and/or confirmation on their mobile device. The transaction takes less than 60 seconds to complete. PayNearMe is then informed a payment has been made and the Department of State is notified in near real time.

“From the Department of State’s perspective it’s a lot easier because they don’t have to accept one payment after another in cash or money orders,” said Darnaud. “Instead, they receive a lump sum payment at the end of every banking day so they can process those payments each day in bulk.”

The cash network also allows for transactions outside of normal banking hours. “The stores we work with are generally open later than the banks, so it makes it convenient for people to make payments," said Darnaud. “We conducted research on when people make government-related payments and found that 38 percent of those payments are made either after-hours or during the weekends.”

PayNearMe converts cash into electronic forms of payment for a variety of private and public clients nationwide, including utility companies, health care organizations and social services departments. This is the first major U.S. federal government offering for PayNearMe.

Justine Brown Contributing Writer