Last week, Cuba reformed its immigration policies to dispense with the need of an exit visa to travel outside the island. The eased travel restrictions would also allow Cuban citizens to remain abroad for up to two years without losing social benefits and property rights. The reforms will take effect in January 2013. Of course, no one knows how the Cuban government will implement them.
One thing is clear: the changes in Cuba are likely to affect the United States.
Cubans enjoy special immigration treatment in the U.S. Upon touching U.S. soil, Cubans are automatically granted immigration parole status allowing them to remain in the country, and after one year, apply for legal permanent residency. The U.S. Government does not anticipate a mass influx of Cuban immigrants because Cubans traveling to the U.S. will still require a visa. True: however, now Cuban citizens will be able to apply for visas more freely. It will be interesting to see how the State Department will react to increased applications, especially when they are likely to include financial support affidavits from Cuban-Americans.
Canada and Mexico have established relations with Cuba, so travel to these countries may be easier. Neither country gives Cubans the same preferential treatment as the U.S.; however, that benefit may encourage illegal Cuban immigration as a pathway to the U.S. Mexico is already a corridor for immigration from Central and South America.
Cubans are likely to travel to places in the U.S. where they have relatives or that have sizeable Cuban communities – Miami, northern New Jersey, New York and Tampa. Once they meet state residency requirements, they will be eligible for state social benefits. Cuban immigration may impact some communities.
The change is good, and the Cuban people deserve the right to travel and immigrate. Will their increased freedom result in a rethinking of U.S. policies?
Photo Credits: Havana Cityscape- Cuba -Alan Lamers NY Statue of Liberty -Ceslo Flores Miami Cityscape -Helena (htjoker1977)