Schema: The Impactful Relaxed Foreign Travel Policy in Cuba

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 15:30

~ 1 year ago, on Jan. 14, 2013, Raúl Castro and the Cuban government relaxed foreign travel

  policies for its citizens...

~ Between Jan. 14 and Nov. 30, 2013, more than 184,000 islanders had gone abroad.

        * Many on more than one trip (257,518 trips total according to Cuba’s foreign

          and migration department)

        * Mainly young professionals between 25 and 40 in search of jobs abroad

        * Principally to the United States, Mexico, and Spain

        * The ‘brain drain’ feared by Castro regime has not yet occurred.

~ Official figures: 3,500 Cubans living in other countries have returned to the island to stay...

        * Havana continues to tightly control the return of hardline critics of the socialist Castro

          Regime, though it does grant temporary visit permits.

        * The balseros (those who arrived to the US on shoddy rafts/boats) who left after the

          massive 1994 economic crisis and exodus as well as physicians who deserted their

          their country and faced prosecution are now returning.

          *~ The Cuban reform, due to the great number of exiled Cubans that once deserted their

               country but now are able to return, has had a direct impact on business and travel in

               Florida, where many people of Cuban descent call home.

            *^ Since January 2013, countless travel agencies in Florida have been incredibly busy

                 handling calls from potential customers calling to inquire about prices and         

                 information in regards to obtaining Cuban visas.

            *^ Since President Obama eased travel restrictions in 2009, 15 US airports are now

                 authorized to handle charter jets to and from Havana, and other airports in Florida

                 are also now taking advantage, with direct flights to Havana, amongst other Cuban

                 cities…

~ The migration policy change of 2013 is part of a broader series of reforms – some structural,

  others simply administrative – that have been put in motion since 2006 when Raúl took power

  in order to improve the Cuban socialist model confronted with serious economic and social

  conundrums and problems…

~ Like other reforms in the last two years however, there are limitations to it:

        * It is still not easy for Cubans to travel abroad, as regulations call for prior exit approval,

          known as the “white paper” (carta blanca).

        * Cubans also must demonstrate that they have enough money to cover their expenses,

           including airline tickets, visas, and expenditures abroad.

          *~ Those who cannot fulfill requirements still resort to the dangerous balsero practice of

                floating to the Florida Keys or nearby Caribbean nations like Haiti and Jamaica on

                rickety rafts…

~ Some high-profile Cubans previously denied exit permits have traveled, but were forced to return

  when government officials began cracking down on their colleagues and the organizations that

  they represent.

        * Last quarter of 2013 according to the Commission for Cuban Human Rights and National

          Reconciliation: estimated 931 illegal arrests…

          *~ Some families of dissidents, fearing for safety, have fled and exiled themselves outside

               of the country, until further notice/change.

~ The migration reform also extended the time that Cuban travelers could stay abroad from 11

  months to 2 years without losing residency/social benefits.

        * Because of this, many Cubans now have traveled to the US with the expectation of

          staying there for 1 year and 1 day in order to then legally apply for permanent U.S.

          residency under the “Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA)” (Ley de Adjuste Cubano) without

          losing their legal status in Cuba.

~ While the relaxed policies have benefitted many Cubans, Washington and Havana are still at odds

  on many issues in regards to migration reform…

        * The US is pushing for the release of US contractor Alan Gross, who was given a jail

          sentence of 15 years upon being discovered delivering telephones and radios to dissent

          groups.

        * Cuba is demanding that US officials release four Cubans – part of the so-called ‘Cuban

          Five’ – who are still serving time in the US for espionage.

~ Nevertheless, five days prior to the first anniversary of this Cuban immigration reform, the two

  sides were engaged in a new round of migration policy dialogue hoping to ensure safe, legal, and

  orderly immigration between the two nations.

        * This was perhaps one of the most important, respectful, and groundbreaking U.S.-Cuba

          diplomatic meetings since 1962, when official relations were severed.

        * Cuba is continuing to implore the US to abolish the “Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA),”

          which, signed by Lyndon Johnson, grants the right to Cubans to apply for legal U.S.

             permanent residency (and a ‘green card’) after one year in-country.

          *~ The ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot” (Pies Secos, Pies Mojados) policy, added to the 1966

                   “Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA)” as a consequence of a 1995 revision to the CAA,

             which allows any Cuban who illegally makes it (with ‘dry feet’) onto U.S. mainland

                   soil, the right to stay and eventually be eligible for an expedited legal permanent

             resident status, is of particular Cuban concern.

 

*** As the one-year anniversary of the latest Cuban migration reform passes, it provides an

      intriguing and significant background and catalyst to the ongoing migration talks occurring

      between Cuba and the United States, countries that, since 1962, have not had official

      diplomatic relations with one another.  The direct impacts in regards to the United States

      and Latin America in general of this Cuban policy change make it a significant development to     

      continue monitoring.

 

Sources:

 

 

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