Over half a million Cubans have travelled abroad, 78% of them for the first time, since immigration reforms were passed in 2013. EURACTIV Spain reports.
An official statement, released by the Cuban government four years after the policy was introduced and on the back of the United States terminating its preferential migration policy with Cuba, known as the ‘Wet feet/dry feet’ policy, contains a plethora of information on migration and does a lot to dispel any doubts about Washington’s new approach.
Cuba has welcomed the end of the policy, which since 1995 has seen any illegal Cuban migrants intercepted at sea returned to their country of origin, while any making it to the mainland have been eligible to apply for residency after one year.
9.6% of people who went abroad between January 2013 and December 2015 obtained the status of emigrant under Cuban law, which dictates that anyone spending more than 24 months abroad loses their residency.
Of this 9.6%, 5.7% remained in the US, which this Saturday (14 January) claimed that 2 million Cubans reside in the States and that 57% of those nationals were born on the island of Cuba.
Of the 671,000 islanders that left Cuba since the immigration reform came into effect, 45% came back.
It was also revealed that 6,000 Cubans were returned home after being found to be irregular migrants, although it was not specified how many of them were returned from the US and how many were returned from Central America, which has been dealing with its own migration crisis since 2015.
Thousands of Cubans have tried to cross through Central America into the US via the Mexican border, but many have been left stranded, especially in Panama and Costa Rica, after Nicaragua decided to close its border in November 2015.
Official mouthpiece of the Communist Party Granma said that exactly four years after it was first introduced, the policy is “being accepted” and “its application is going as planned”.
The official statement added that the reform “is the will of the Cuban government, exercising its sovereignty, updating existing legislation and amending it according to current and foreseeable conditions”.
It also added that it was another step towards “strengthening ties between the country and its overseas residents”.
According to the official data, 418,000 Cubans that reside abroad visited the island last year.
“This data debunks the theory that Cubans living abroad have fears about visiting Cuba and that the government refuses them,” insisted Ernesto Soberón of the foreign ministry’s consular affairs department, ACN reported.
The 2013 reform was one of Raúl Castro’s first major acts after taking power, ending a decades-long restrictive policy that meant Cubans had to apply for special permission before going abroad, which in itself was costly.
However, there are still restrictions in place when it comes to medical personnel, scientists, teachers, managerial positions and sportsmen, who still need special permission, which Cuba justifies as its attempt to avoid a brain drain.
Other aspects of the reform include extending the period a Cuban national can leave the island without fear of losing their residency, from 11 to 24 months, while Cubans living abroad are now free to visit the country for 90 days instead of just 60.