HAVANA TIMES, Dec 19 — The flow of emigrants who traveled to Cuba in 2011 exceeded 400,000 people. The number of visits soared after President Obama lifted the restrictions imposed by his predecessor.
Cuba-American members of congress tried to hamper these visits through a law that would limit travel to the island and restrict the amounts of remittances that emigrants could send to their families, but the proposal failed to make it through the federal legislature.
The reforms taking place in Cuba are opening up new doors for immigrants who — through their families — can buy a house or a car, or invest in a business. Some are even considering the possibility of returning one day.
The immigration law to be adopted in early 2012 may further increase the number of travelers since it will be more flexible with regard to emigrants by facilitating their visits and even allowing for repatriation for the permanent return.
US laws against family visits
Trips back to the island by Cuban-Americans bring into question the concept of “exiles fleeing communism.” In fact, the Cuban Adjustment Act provides legal status to Cuban refugees because they supposedly cannot return to Cuba.
Rep. David Rivera proposed to punish “those who make use of the law designed to protect them from persecution and then travel back to the persecuting country.” Recently his colleague Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tried unsuccessfully to slip in a bill in a government-spending package, one that had new restrictions to limit visits by Cuban-Americans to Cuba.
The failed bill was also seeking to reduce the amount of remittances that immigrants could send to their families, another restriction that was eliminated by President Obama, who went so far as to expand the operating license of Western Union, the company that processes the largest amount of remittances.
Diaz-Balart’s bill intended to return things to the days of President George W. Bush, when emigrants could only travel to the island once every three years and when the maximum amount of annual remittances was $1,200 (USD), which could only be sent to a narrow circle of direct family members.
The truth is that the reforms underway are offering opportunities to emigrants. Thanks to the elimination of restrictions on the sale of building materials, July and her husband have been able — from Spain — to build an independent apartment in her sister’s house in the city of Bayamo.
Helena, an emigrant who lives in California, has already arranged to purchase a house and a car in the name of friends. Her aim is to “save up a little money in the US and return to live in Cuba.
Other emigrants are investing in businesses with the hope that their relatives on the island will be able to support themselves and even provide a return on the initial investment. Some like Lenin Abreu have not only invested in the opening of businesses but have also left the US to return to work in Cuba.
Emigrants are also vacationing with their friends in Cuban hotels, a geographically and emotionally close destination. By their number, they make up the third largest group of guests after Canadians and Cubans living on the island.
Miami politicians are attempting to contain the expectations that the new reforms are stirring up among emigrants, hopes that would result in an increase in travel in addition to more monetary remittances that — in addition to providing traditional family support — now have an investment component.
Immigration law changes
Following the authorization of sales of cars and homes, the expectations of most Cubans are now focused on the new immigration law, which is expected to be much more flexible than the current one, both for Cuban residents on the island and for emigrants.
Apparently, it will lengthen the time one can spend abroad with permission of return, which is currently 11 months. It is also expected to establish the right of an emigrant to repatriate a single time, meaning they would again be allowed to reside in Cuba.
The changes will allow citizens to live abroad without losing their properties on the island, including their house or their car. Even if they end up overstaying the time limit, they will have the option of leaving their house in the name of a family member.
Unofficially, its reported that tens of thousands of Cubans are involved in the repatriation process through their respective consulates. Meanwhile, in the immigration offices here in Cuba, BBC Mundo found permanent lines of Cuban immigrants applying for residency back on the island.