HAVANA TIMES — US authorities granted more than 32,000 visas to Cubans in the last fiscal year, said today in Havana, Edward Alex Lee, a State Department Undersecretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Within the framework of the Cuban immigration reform, the US has received more visa applications, said Alex Lee. He noted that Washington granted in the fiscal year ending September 31, 2013 “more than 32,000 tourist and work visas” to citizens of the island. “That’s an increase of 100 percent,” Lee added.
A year ago, the Castro administration implemented a reform that eliminated the exit permit required for decades on Cubans seeking to travel. In response to the measure, the United States also began in August to give multiple visas for up to five years for temporary travel to Cuban citizens.
The two countries have had decades of complex relations regarding immigration issues. The Cuban government traditionally accuses Washington of encouraging mass emigration from the island with its fast-track permanent residency policy for Cuban refugees.
Alex Lee met in Havana on Thursday with a Cuban delegation for a new round of migration talks. Although the US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba over half a century ago, the countries maintain a timely dialogue on various issues. The contacts have intensified under President Barack Obama.
“The tone of the conversations was very frank,” said Alex Lee. “We have differences of views in some important areas, but also the attitude of both teams was constructive,” he said .
The two countries resumed dialogue on migration issues in July 2013, after two years of hiatus. The meetings have been held since 1995, after the “rafters crisis” a year earlier. The next round will be held in the US this coming summer, confirmed Lee.
Havana hopes to reach a new immigration agreement to substitute the one signed in 1994. Since then, Washington promised to grant 20,000 visas each year to Cubans wishing to emigrate.
On Thursday, the island’s delegation again criticized the US immigration laws for Cubans, which they say encourage illegal migration and human trafficking.
The Cuban Adjustment Act, passed in the 60s and the “wet feet, dry feet” norm from 1995, gives Cubans the right to fast-track US permanent residency even if they arrive illegally. They only have to touch US soil (dry feet). If they are caught at sea (“wet feet”) they are repatriated to Cuba .
With approximately 1.5 million residents of Cuban origin, based mainly in Florida, the United States is the country with the largest Cuban exile community.