Cuban President Raul Castro announced earlier this week that the country will ease travel restriction for Cubans beginning in January. The government made the announcement Tuesday in the Communist newspaper Granma. The announcement indicates that beginning in January, Cuba will list requirements that Cubans obtain an exit visa and a letter of invitation from a person in the destination country before being granted permission to depart the country. Those restrictions were put in place in 1961.

Commentators, however, are saying that the eased restrictions may not make foreign travel for Cubans entirely easy. Tourists and potential immigrants will still need a visa from most destination countries before traveling. The eased travel restrictions in Cuba do not eliminate the need for passports and national ID cards for Cubans seeking to travel from the country.

A person well-versed in Cuban issues in Germany tells Reuters that, “For most, the key bottleneck will now be getting an entry visa from the target country.” A Cuban exile scholar with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami fears that the announcement “may end up being ado about nothing,” according to the Huffington Post.

A spokeswoman for the State Department says that visa requirements in the United States remain unchanged. That means that many Cubans will still need to apply for a visa before visiting the United States. However, the easing of the Cuban travel restrictions may make it easier for Cubans who have relatives living in the United States to emigrate.

U.S. immigration law includes the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. Under that program, immigrants from Cuba who are currently living in the United States can sponsor relatives. Immigration officials in the United States may choose to allow sponsored Cuban immigrants to enter the county-even if a regular visa is not available.

That program has already helped to reunite Cuban families. Immigration officials in the United States say that at least 20,000 travel documents are made available each year under the reunification program. In the most recent fiscal year, the federal government says that roughly 43,000 tourist or immigration visas were issued to Cubans.

But, the State Department spokeswoman says that U.S policy remains unchanged, as stated above. That seems to suggest that accords between Cuba and the U.S. are also unaffected. In 1995, the U.S. began a policy commonly referred to as “wet-foot, dry-foot.” Cubans found trying to reach the U.S. by sea are turned away. Almost 1,300 Cubans were repatriated to Cuba in the past year under the policy. Those who manage to reach shore generally have been allowed to remain in the U.S. under the same policy.

While U.S visa requirements appear to remain unchanged, the State Department is analyzing the details about the new Cuban policy to determine if it has any implications on processing immigration and travel issues for Cubans seeking to enter the United States.

Sources:

  • Reuters, “Cuba lifting hated travel restrictions,” Jeff Franks, Oct. 17, 2012
  • Huffington Post, “Despite Immigration Policy Change, No Easy Path From Cuba To U.S.,” Alicia Caldwell, Oct. 17, 2012