HAVANA TIMES — The application of Cuban immigration reforms began on Monday without any flood of people at the Havana airport. This calm was experienced despite travelers no longer needing an exit permit or a letter of invitation. The flow of passengers was similar to that of any other day.
All Cubans see this as a very positive reform because they can now come and go freely from the island. Several residents abroad welcomed the relaxation of regulations because now they can invite their families to the countries where they reside.
The new measures allow Cubans to live in other countries without losing their Cuban residency, they only have to visit the island every two years. Even those individuals living in the United States can maintain their status of residents in Cuba, which until Monday was totally impossible.
Notwithstanding, Cubans are now confronting the same demons faced by many Third World citizens: lack of money to pay for travel and the difficulty of obtaining a visa from more economically developed countries.
Business as usual
Passenger traffic on Monday morning at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana was normal, both in the airline terminal for flights to Miami and in the one for the rest of the world. In any case, many Cubans are hoping to travel for the first time.
“It’s a very positive change for Cubans. To me, it seems fair that this was done. I’m going to Mexico to work for a year as a school teacher,” explained Yanisley Castro. She’s going along with her friend Yosvany Diaz, who also plans to go to work in Mexico and later return to Cuba.
Silenia Hernandez is availing herself of the reforms to go to see her husband. “I’m traveling today to take advantage of the new law. But I’m only going there on vacation, because my family is here. Plus, now I have the ability to come and go with less paperwork, and it’s cheaper.”
“To me it’s fantastic to be able to travel without so many requirements,” says Luis Padron, who lives in Guatemala. He added, “It’s very healthy because I have two children who are professionals and I’d like them to come and visit me, just like me coming here.”
“This is great because now we won’t have to pay for the letter of invitation and the exit permit for my grandmother when she leaves. People can leave freely and there’s no need to go to live in another country to travel,” said Eidy Perez, a resident of Mexico.
Here and there
Geldy Gonzalez’s two teenage daughters were traveling to the United States to live with their father. She told us that us that immigration reform “reduces costs, gives Cubans alternatives and promotes reunification by giving people more time to spend with their families.”
Laurent Aragon, 16, will also travel to Miami. Her mother, Dr. Ivon Celestrin, noted that permission to reside abroad for 24 months gives her daughter the chance to obtain residency and citizenship in the US without losing his Cuban citizenship.
Laurent will therefore have the option of returning to Cuba if living with his father doesn’t work out. Similarly, she can even study at a university on the island if she’s unable to afford the costs of enrolling in a university in the US.
The problem was that up until now Cubans were allowed to live outside of the country for only 11 months and 29 days, while the US required islanders to remain in that country for one year and one day without leaving for them to be granted residence (under the conditions of the Cuban Adjustment Act passed in the 1960s).
Dr. Celestrin appreciates the flexibility provided by the new immigration reforms, but she noted: “A vicious circle now exists. Most of people who want to travel are trying to improve their economic situation, but those who are the poorest have the least money to pay for all the travel expenses.”
Other people simply don’t have anywhere to go. This is the case with Mario Varona, a former political prisoner who was denied a US visa “because, according to them, I committed a terrorist act by burning down a government warehouse.” He explained this to us while selling candy to people in line at the Immigration Office.
But beyond specific cases, the fact is that the foreign consulates in Havana are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to granting visas. The normalization of immigration is putting Cubans in the same playing field as the rest of Latin America.
Even in Miami, various Cuban-American members of Congress are proposing to reform the Cuban Adjustment Act to make it exclusively applicable to situations of “political persecution,” which would slow the flow of economic emigrants that has occurred over the past 30 years.
(*) See Fernando Ravsberg’s blog (in Spanish).