Cuba to Allow Doctors to Travel Abroad

Fernando Ravsberg*

The sale of medical services gives Cuba its greatest foreign exchange earnings. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Starting January 14, Cuban doctors will also be able to leave the country just like other citizens, thanks to a law that eliminates most migratory obstacles that for five decades limited freedom of movement in the country.

Various Havana physicians confirmed that Health Minister Roberto Morales informed hospital directors this weekend that the immigration law would also apply to the majority of the island’s health care personnel.

The new law eliminates exit permits, letters of invitation and other red tape that together cost more than $300 USD. The reforms were announced in October but it was thought that health care personnel would be excluded in order to prevent their mass emigration.

A large departure of doctors would seriously affect the Cuban economy since they bring in around $5 billion USD annually from the sale of their services in Cuba and abroad. In Venezuela alone there are around 35,000 of some serving.

The same rights

No doctor wanted to make public statements about this, but all respondents have received the news with satisfaction. “It’s because we had discounted our being included in the immigration reform,” said one of them.

A source within the Immigration Department said doctors would receive the same treatment as other professionals, meaning that “most would be able to leave the country without problems, though those considered vital to the country would be subject to the same procedures in place up until now.”

Cuba — which has 75,000 doctors, or one out of every 160 inhabitants — can afford to lose some through emigration. Photo: Raquel Perez

The new law allows the bulk of Cubans to leave the island by showing a valid passport and a visa from the country where they’re going. But a minority of professionals, athletes, soldiers, scientists and physicians would have to continue to request official permission to travel.

The deputy head of the Immigration Department, Colonel Lambert Fraga, explained that those who are left on the sidelines from the benefits of this law will know in advance because each sector has to develop a list of people considered vital.

Massive emigration?

Studies by the Cuban authorities dismiss any massive outflow of physicians. The Immigration Department reported that since 2000, it received one million applications to go abroad and that it approved trips for 99.4 percent of those.

The same source says that of those who traveled abroad temporarily, only 12.8 percent remained to live abroad permanently. In that same period, more than 150,000 university students graduated, but little more than 10 percent of them left the country.

No doubt some health care workers will take advantage of the freedom to travel to settle in other countries, but authorities believe that the number won’t be dramatic considering that the country has 75,000 doctors and the ability to graduate 5,000 more every year.

So far the number of those who have stayed abroad while serving on missions is a small minority. Even those doctors who are considered “deserters” will able to return to the island after they’ve been gone for more than eight years.

Therefore Cuban doctor Enrique Rodriguez living in Chile is preparing his bags to return to see his family; while in Madrid, Cuban doctor Miriam Valenzuela will have to wait another four years before returning to see her parents.
(*) An HT translation of the original published in Spanish by

3 thoughts on “Cuba to Allow Doctors to Travel Abroad


  • Not exactly on topic, but it does touch on the subject of Cuban healthcare…

    There have been reports of small outbreaks of cholera in various parts of Cuba lately, beginning last summer in Santiago, more recently in Holguin and now in parts of Havana. Thus far the numbers of people infected are relatively small. Especially when compared with the horrific situation across the water in Haiti. Over 7500 people have died of cholera in the last two years. This article at Foreign Policy details the history of the epidemic:

    “In The Time of Cholera: How the U.N. created an epidemic — then covered it up”

    The gist of the report is that cholera did not exist on Haiti until UN soldiers from Nepal brought it with them during the recent UN aid mission. For political reasons, this source was covered up, which made the epidemic even worse.

    So what does this have to do with Cuba? Well, Cuba sent hundreds of medical professionals to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. They provided medical care to tens of thousands of Haitians in dozens of communities across the devastated island.

    So could it be that theses medical teams accidentaly brought the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae, back to Cuba with them? If so, that would be a terrible irony. As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

  • I have a friend who is a doctor in Havana. Based on his emails to me recently, hes not aware that the immigration reforms included medical workers. Unfortunately, even though he has access to email because of his profession, he is reluctant to discuss political topics through email with me. His email is constantly monitored by State Security goons, especially the ones he gets from me! Anyway, the freedom to travel is a welcome change. However, until salaries increase to a level commensurate with his peers in other countries, he has no hope of being able to afford the costs of passports, visas, and airline tickets. Keep in mind that he earns less than $30 per month. The real reforms that Cubans need are the ones that will allow Cubans to earn a decent living and to decide their own fates.

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