Cuba eases travel abroad for many citizens



FIFTY years after the Cuban missile crisis, there are signs even Cuban government is beginning to relax.

The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it will ease its highly restrictive travel laws in January, allowing many Cubans to go abroad without first obtaining a hard-to-get exit visa.

The announcement in the Communist Party newspaper Granma marks a major shift in migration policy for the Havana government, which for more than 50 years has imposed tight controls on who leaves the island and how long Cubans may remain abroad without losing their citizenship benefits.

The strict laws have led many to risk leaving the island on fragile boats, rafts or inner tubes or to defect while abroad.

Obtaining an exit visa generally requires a marathon trip through the state bureaucracy and payment of hundreds of dollars in fees in a country where an engineer or a doctor makes $30 a month. And at the end of the process, many Cubans are simply denied the visa.

The visa requirement is one of the most widely loathed policies in the country, among the elites and ordinary people alike.

According to the notice published Tuesday, Cubans will no longer have to present a letter of invitation to travel abroad, and when they leave, will only have to show their passport and a visa from the country they are traveling to. The new rules will take effect Jan. 13.

The government also said it would allow Cubans to remain outside the country for 24 months before they risk losing their residency and their rights to state-provided housing, health care and schooling. Currently they must return home within 11 months.

There is, however, a catch.

"The update to the migratory policy takes into account the right of the revolutionary State to defend itself from the interventionist and subversive plans of the U.S. government and its allies," the government said. "Therefore, measures will remain to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent applied by the powerful."

What this means: Engineers, scientists, doctors, athletes, performers, pilots, military officers and others who have been educated by the state and are considered too valuable to lose will still be required to get exit visas.

The Cuban government has long complained about U.S. immigration policies that encourage a brain drain from Cuba — granting immediate residency, work permits and a quick path to U.S. citizenship to any Cuban who makes it to the shores of the United States, under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. (Cubans intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba, but those who make it to land are granted asylum.)

U.S. policy makes emigration especially enticing for Cuban doctors. The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program allows Cuban doctors and other health workers who are overseas to enter the United States immediately as refugees.

"This is a major step, long in coming and long demanded by Cubans," said Julia Sweig, director for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The move is consistent with Raul Castro's presidency — slow to come but essential to building a more open society."

"Perhaps if the US stops its policy of inducing Cuban doctors to defect, they, too, will enjoy the same freedoms. But for now at least, a political and ideological icon of the past has been eliminated," she added.

Geoff Thale, a program director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank, said it remains unclear which categories of professionals will continue to need exit visas or how many individuals will be affected. And, he noted, "the Cuban government still maintains the rule that citizens who live abroad for an extended period of time can lose property and other citizenship rights."

But he and other Cuba watchers generally applauded the partial lifting of restrictions.

"The impact of this is big, because we Cubans have a desire to travel, just like everyone else," said Kirenia Nuñez of the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission. "But for many it was only a dream."

Many Cubans are waiting to see how the new regulations work in practice, she said. "Who will be able to travel? How easy will it really be?"

The Obama administration has made it easier for Cuban Americans to visit their homeland and to send more money to Cuba to support relatives. Restrictions on other Americans wanting to travel to Cuba remain mostly in place.

Some US legislators are pushing to hold down the number of Cuban Americans going to Cuba and to limit the amount of money they send, saying that the funds and travel are propping up the Communist government led by Raul Castro and, before him, by his brother, Fidel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair