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Migration & Refugees

Despite Immigration Reform, Travel Still Tricky for Cubans

HAVANA, Jan 14 2013 (IPS) - Maria Lourdes, a Cuban, has two passports, one from the island and another from Spain, but until now traveling was only a dream.

“With the new regulations it will be easier, because as a Spanish citizen I don’t need a visa to leave, but to get to the United States I will still have to go through another country,” she told IPS.

In order to take advantage of a historic new migration policy that came into effect in Cuba on Monday, Jan. 14, this 50-year-old woman expects that her passage will be financed by one of her relatives in the U.S. or Spain, the land of her grandfather, thanks to whom she got this European citizenship.

“My cousin told me that in both countries I could work caring for the elderly. I want to leave to make some money and return,” Lourdes, who says she is “very poor”, added.

However, the severe economic crisis affecting Spain discourages Cubans intending to emigrate, even those more qualified than Lourdes.

The immigration reform, anxiously awaited by Cuba’s 11.2 million people, includes the elimination of permits to leave the country, and renders obsolete the letter of invitation from abroad that was required to obtain the permits.

Both documents had become cumbersome to acquire, and prices soared to about 300 dollars for any trip for personal reasons.

Starting Monday, Jan. 14, it will be enough to have a simple passport, which is issued by the offices that provide identity cards, and of course a visa for the country of travel.

While there are some nations that Cuban nationals can visit without a visa, those of greatest interest, the United States and Spain to name just two, do require it, making entry difficult.

Another Cuban named Teresa, an economist who resigned in 2012 from the company where she held a management position, recently obtained Spanish citizenship for herself and her son.  Now, she is unsure she took the right step to improve their economic situation.

“I notice that my family is not so interested in having me, they advise me to wait a bit, at least to see how things go over there,” she admitted to IPS, referring to Spain’s unemployment crisis.

IPS collected numerous stories about the new immigration policy, many of which bore striking similarities one another.

But for some, the revised law in this Caribbean island comes too late, because they opted some time ago for permanent residence abroad.

The new measures “represent an inevitable correction and an improvement in the country’s relations with its emigrants, though the road to normalisation of ties with the exiled migrants will still be long,” Cuban journalist Boris Caro, who has been residing in Canada for more than a year, told IPS.

A list circulated by the newspaper ‘Juventud Rebelde’ (Rebel Youth), includes points as far away as Vanuatu, Palau and Tuvalu for stays of no more than 30 days without need of a visa.

The only Latin American country that does not require that document is Ecuador, for trips that do not exceed 90 days, while some neighbouring Caribbean islands also do not require it for stays of 28 to 90 days.

Argentina, for example, requires all foreigners, except those from neighbouring countries, to provide a record of the hotel booking that coincides with the days of travel, a travel ticket, itinerary and proof of economic means to afford the stay.  But if a person plans to stay with a citizen who extended an invitation, he or she will need to provide a notarised letter.

In a statement issued last Friday in Havana to accredited foreign media, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland warned that her country’s immigration policy would not change, and stressed, “Cuban citizens still require a valid U.S. visa or entry authorisation to enter the United States.”

“We continue to encourage people not to risk their lives by undertaking dangerous sea journeys, and we note that most countries still require that Cuban citizens have entry visas,” Nuland added.

The United States is currently the largest recipient of Cuban migrants.

Decree-Law 302, which amends the 1976 Migration Act of Cuba, establishes special regulations for, among others, university graduates and managers who work in activities vital for the country’s social, economic, scientific and technical development. The new rules are designed to preserve the skilled workforce.

Thus, travel authorisation for private matters requires an examination of each particular case, such as those of high-performance athletes, coaches and trainers “vital to the Cuban sports movement”, and mid-level technical expertise needed to maintain health services and scientific and technical activity.

However, additional provisions were rescinded by a ministerial decision in 2004, which created exit obstacles for health sector personnel, an official source confirmed to IPS. That means personnel from that sector will be treated the same as the rest of their countrymen, and enjoy the right to travel freely for personal reasons.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics and Information, Cuban health personnel in 2011 numbered some 265,000 people, of which 78,000 were doctors. Cuba currently has more than 38,000 healthcare employees in 66 countries, mainly in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

In what Havana has denounced as a manoeuvre to promote the leak of professionals from the country, the U.S. implemented a special entry permit (the Cuban Medical Professional Parole) in 2006 to house Cuban doctors who carry out missions in developing countries and are seeking residence in this powerful northern country.

*Marcela Valente contributed to this report from Buenos Aires.

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