Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Some 29,700 visas for family visits, educational, cultural or business-related trips have been issued to Cubans this year. The figure is close to setting a record in the issuing of temporary permits for travel to the United States this fiscal year.
According to statistics made available to CafeFuerte by the US Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, the visas for family visits (B1 and B2) issued between October of 2013 and this past June 30th have experienced a 25% increase in comparison to the same period last year. The majority of these are 5-year, multiple-entry visas, a type of travel visa that USINT began to issue to Cubans in August of 2013.
Everything indicates that, by the end of the last quarter of 2014 (September 30), the issuing of visas to Cuban visitors to the US will have reached a record figure.
Complying with the Migratory Accords
The USINT Consular Section also stamped more than 17,000 immigrant visas for Cuban citizens this year, in compliance with the migratory accords reached by Havana and Washington in 1994 and 1995. At this pace, the United States will easily meet its commitment of issuing 20,000 immigrant visas a year, as agreed by the two parties following the balseros (“raft-people”) crisis twenty years ago.
Washington has indeed met its commitment, issuing at least 20,000 visas to Cuban immigrants every year, in addition to the visas issued to the winners of the lottery under the US State Department’s Diversity Program, which issued 1,480 such visas to Cuban applicants following its latest draw (DV-2015). Cuba and Venezuela (1,556) where the two Latin American countries that secured the largest number of US residencies through the lottery draw this past May.
The number of visas issued to Cubans under the two categories – visitors and immigrants – adds up to 46,700 this year, an unprecedented increase in consular activity in Havana. During 2013, USINT issued 56,981 travel documents. Of these, 32,254 were visitor visas and 24,727 were immigrant visas.
The more flexible travel regulations and increase in the issuing of visitor visas to Cubans is the ostensible result of the policies that have been implemented by the Obama administration since 2009. The USINT headquarters in Havana has had to expand its facilities to be able to receive and process the avalanche of requests that followed the implementation of Cuba’s migratory reforms, which, last year, eliminated the previously required travel permit and other restrictions that applied to Cuban nationals wishing to travel abroad.
Fleeing the Island
The new migratory regulations applied under Raul Castro’s government allow travelers to remain abroad for 24 months without losing any of their rights as Cuban citizens, something which allows those who visit the United States to avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) and secure legal residency in the country before returning to the island.
Not even these new options for legal immigration, however, have managed to stop Cubans seeking to illegally flee the island and arrive in the United States by sea or by crossing the Mexican or Canadian borders.
As of August this year, 1,835 Cubans had been intercepted in the Strait of Florida by the US Coast Guard Service and repatriated to Cuba. Over 200 managed to reach US soil and invoke the CAA “dry foot” policy this year.
More than 20,000 Cubans have entered the United States through bordering countries. A total of 14,000 through the Mexican border, according to data from the Customs and Porden Protection (CBP) Department.
NON-IMMIGRANT VISAS FOR FAMILY VISITS, ACADEMIC AND CULTURAL EXCHANGES AND BUSINESS-RELATED TRIPS (2004-2014)
2004 – 10,508
2005 – 11,632
2006 – 7,330
2007 – 10,614
2008 – 11,060
2009 – 17,690
2010 – 20,768
2011 – 16,654
2012 – 15,983
2013 – 32,254
2014 – 29,700 (October 2013-June 2014)
Source: US Interests Section