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President Obama ends U.S. visa exemption for Cuban immigrants

Florida is home to many Cuban-Americans. Many members of Florida's Cuban community were no doubt dismayed by a recent shift in U.S. immigration policy. For 22 years, U.S. policy allowed Cuban immigrants who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become legal residents, even though they arrived without visas. This month, President Obama announced that the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy was terminated, effective immediately.

The policy's nickname stems from its rule that Cuban migrants apprehended at sea were to be repatriated to Cuba, while those who reached dry land were allowed to stay. In recent years, some had argued that the policy was a Cold War relic that had outlived its purpose.

The policy was terminated as part of an agreement reached with the Cuban government, as part of the effort by the U.S. and Cuba to normalize relations between the two countries. As part of the agreement, Cuba will accept back some people who fled the country in the past. Until now, migrants who had been out of Cuba for four years or more have been denied reentry.

Although the end of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy will make it harder for many Cubans to emigrate to the U.S., there are still options available for Cuban nationals who want to get U.S. visas. For example, there are a number of work visas that will permit Cuban nationals to enter the country for purposes of business or employment. There are family visa programs which allow family members to reunite with relatives in the U.S. And those who can show a well-founded fear of persecution on political, social, racial or religious grounds can still apply for asylum in the U.S.

Choosing the right type of visa to apply for can be a complicated and confusing task. Those from Cuba or other nations who wish to settle in the U.S. may wish to seek legal advice as to which visa is appropriate for their situation.

Source: New York Times, "Obama Ends Exemption for Cubans Who Arrive Without Visas," Julie Hirschfeld Davis & Frances Robles, Jan. 12, 2017

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