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.”
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.
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 cartasdesdecuba.com.