Cuba: An Intelligent Strategy on Immigration Policy

Esteban Morales*

Esteban Morales

HAVANA TIMES — The new Cuban immigration regulations have finally appeared.

Aware that this involves a matter of the greatest political sensitivity, the Cuban government issued Executive Order No. 302 (amending Act 1312, the “Immigration Law” of September 20, 1976 and other regulations related to this subject) and published this in the Gaceta Oficial on Tuesday, October 16, of this year.

A new immigration strategy emerges

It can be said without fear of being mistaken that the new Executive Order and its implications represent not only substantial modifications of the regulations in force up until now, but signify a real historical change in the methods and instruments used by the Cuban government to deal with immigration policy.

Notwithstanding, the Comision de Derechos Humanos [the “Human Rights Commission,” a political opposition group] asserts that this is a mere a cosmetic change designed only for media effects. They see this as a means for the government to increase its prestige in the eyes of the Cuban people, who have generally recognized this reform as a substantial change in immigration policy.

These new immigration measures represent, first of all, a substantial and intelligent challenge to the aggressive nature with which the United States has manipulated immigration policy towards Cuba over the past fifty years.

It can therefore be said that, from the Cuban perspective, we have entered a new historical period of immigration relations.

Immigration regulations that now take form in Executive Order No. 302 address political considerations, take the initiative away from the US government and overwhelm the context of US immigration policy by placing that government in a position of having to re-analyze the conditions under which Cuba has been treated to date; these are due to the following fundamental reasons:

The immigration problem is dealt with by Cuba; it is not a reactive response to the aggressive US policy set out in the Cuban Adjustment Act (or the “wet foot/dry foot” policy).

Nor does it have a limited scope; rather, it devises its own policy, with the independence that puts on center stage the needs of the nation and not those involved in the now historical confrontation, which hasn’t had any solution.

Cuba has turned the tables. We’ll see what will be done by the US, which for now seems will remain in the same position, though it doesn’t seem possible that it can do that for long.

It is presumed that the dynamics of immigration between Cuba and the United States has entered a new stage. This is one in which Cuba isn’t restricted to simple resistance vis-à-vis US policy as a matter affecting national security; rather, the island is in a situation in which it can take its own policy initiatives, regardless of the positions that the US may or may not take in response.

With determination and intelligence, the country has addressed contradictions (which can still be produced between being more flexible and recognizing rights) to see itself forced to defend its human capital from the “brain drain” that it has been subject to over all these years.

But what’s true is that it was Cuba — with its letters of invitation and exit permits — that appeared to be the obstacle to overcome. Will the United States now, if it doesn’t grant visas, will be the one that’s left looking like the “bad guy”?

Nor is it possible to have any illusions by thinking that everything is resolved, because if visas aren’t granted there will be no travel, even though a letter of invitation or an exist permit are no longer necessary.

In an open manner, the country is seeing to the attention, treatment and defense of emigrants, gradually and definitely considering them a part of the nation and proposing to normalize, systematize and defend them, accepting the internal and external advantages and disadvantages that this represents, but with the full awareness that its emigrants should be treated in a politically fair manner and with full rights.

The country is beginning to take bigger steps in dealing with the right of all citizens to travel the world and to settle wherever they wish, although in doing this it still has to adopt certain protective regulations — very realistic ones indeed — that will continue to place certain limits on the rights of some citizens to freely emigrate at the moment they wish.

With the regulations that have now been adopted (though some of the time constraints might still drag out) the country is greatly contributing to its citizens gradually being freed from the previous condition they had to suffer when always considered potential emigrants.

This is a situation that, in any case, will remain affecting Cuban travelers when trying to obtain visas but which will gradually ease in the same measure as the migration process or simply traveling abroad will, over time, become something normal for any Cuban citizen.

Cubans wishing to travel, for whatever reason, will now be able to experience the benefit of reduced travel cost arrangements (although a passport will cost a little bit more).

The financial aspect will benefit a majority of citizens and certain sectors of the population, though there will still be a limited presence among emigrants of certain groups (the black and mestizo population) that receive fewer family remittances as they have less relatives abroad.

The extension to 24-months for the period of stay abroad (extendable for an additional 24 months), permits citizens to consider the possibility of spending some time abroad without breaking their tie with their country and allows them to even obtain permission for residence abroad. This measure represents an unprecedented leap in comparison to the “one-way trip” previously in force.

The considerations outlined above touch upon the benefits that Cubans living in the country have with the new regulations. Among these, the most important are:

The elimination of the exit permit, making it unnecessary to pay that cost of 150 CUCs, which in turn simplifies travel arrangements.

The elimination of the requirement to have a letter of invitation from a citizen of the destination country or from an institution where someone wishes to travel. This also eliminates the processing costs of that document, which fluctuated between $200 and $400 (USD), or its equivalent in the currency of the inviting country.

The authorization of the departure of children, under the articles outlined in the executive order’s sub-sections.

It is now possible to remain abroad for a period of 24 months, extendable for 24 more, with the obligation to pay only for the extension exceeding the initial 24 months. Only after 25 months will a person be considered to have emigrated, although for justifiable reasons they may extend their stay.

One may now apply for residence abroad indefinitely to maintain a marriage, formalized or not, with a foreign citizen or for other exceptional family and humanitarian situations. That status may also be granted to parents and minors who desire it.

The repeal of nationalization in favor of the Cuban state with regard to property, rights and actions of those who leave the country permanently. This has great economic significance for both the individual who decides to emigrate and for their family. With respect to this, it seems that a misinterpretation is circulating that holds that those who have left the country permanently can reclaim their property. However, Executive Order 302 refers to those who emigrate permanently as of January 14, 2013, not those who emigrated prior to that date.

Graduates of day-time higher educational courses may be authorized to travel for personal matters, which previously was not allowed until national social service obligations had been met.

After the issuing of Executive Order No. 302, some additional measures were announced. These are:

The normalization of temporary entry for those people who emigrated illegally after the 1994 [US-Cuba] Migration Accords if more than eight years have passed since their departure.

The normalization of temporary entry for health care professionals and elite athletes who left the country after 1990 if eight years have transpired since that time. Exceptions may be made for reasons of national defense and security concerning those who left via the US Naval Base in Guantanamo.

The broadening of the grounds for repatriation for those who left the country when they were younger than 16 years of age, as well as for humanitarian reasons.

The regularization of visits by illegal emigrants who left when they were under 16 years of age, in which case they will not have to wait eight years.

These a posteriori announcements are a clear signal that the authorities will continue issuing new regulations as this policy takes effect. Therefore it’s possible to hope for a future in which what regulates Executive Order 302 will continue to expand.

The new dynamic that’s opening

The new immigration regulations, compared with the ones that existed up until now, potentially offer considerable benefit to Cubans living in Cuba. It would be absurd to say that these are mere cosmetic changes intended for the media. These changes, although not total, are substantial and contain opportunities for further progress in the normalization of the immigration process from the perspective of the country’s policies.

It’s true that there are still quite a few steps needed for improving relations between the country and its emigrants, but this process is also advancing to the same extent that the Cubans on the island are receiving resources to allow them to travel abroad.


Some issues are outstanding with respect to Cubans living abroad, though these have more to do with matters regarding to the rights the country might recognize in relation to these Cubans than with immigration issues themselves. I consider such issues to be related to the following:

Regulations concerning administrative fees and passports.

Other regulations that facilitate travel to and stay in Cuba.

Rights to representation in the country.

Rights of citizenship for children born abroad to Cuban parents.

The right to vote in national elections.

The right to repatriation and reunification in Cuba.

The right to retire in Cuba.

It is necessary to continue advancing as much as possible the normalization of relations between Cuba and its emigrants. This is now aided by a set of regulations that will contribute to stimulate the process, generating responses through consulates on the specific problems of Cubans wherever they are.

If we propose that relations between the country and its emigrant community advance, we should also orient our steps in the following directions:

Measures should be adopted to facilitate immigration procedures, both their costs and their flexibility.

– As much as possible must be done to accelerate the process of repatriation of those who wish to return home.

Small capital should not be underestimated as it can contribute to family businesses. This can even be done by providing certain customs provisions, since the current measures applied by Cuban customs seem draconian and unreal.

The children of immigrants should be accepted in Cuban schools.

We should facilitate the children of immigrants being able to go to college in Cuba.

We should provide medical services for emigrants, competing with the high costs of these in the United States.

We need to generate some form of Cuban-American tourism.

We should generate postgraduate, masters, doctoral studies programs that include Cuban-American students.

Cuba should advance towards the pursuit of “circular migration,” i.e. towards the alternative of living in and outside of the country at the same time.

Conferences between the Cuban government and the emigrant community should be regularized on the basis of specific agendas and include the verification of progress made on these.

The new immigration policy, codified in Executive Order No. 302, allows for a new type of emigrant that is more in line with the political and economic needs of the country, but if we do not pay attention to them abroad as we should, this may cause setbacks.

I’m not talking about a group of apolitical and simply obedient emigrants, as some people think; rather, we are looking at a kind of emigrant community that in the future will possess mechanisms and instruments that will enable it to be more demanding of their country of origin.

Undoubtedly the measures now taken by the government help stabilize and expand relations between Cuba and emigrants. Whereas the new regulations are such that a citizen that now migrates from Cuba will have a status substantially different from the situations of those Cubans who left in the earlier waves of emigration.

To the same extent, the current regulations — which will be implemented starting in January 2013 — will also vary substantially the form in which Cubans who emigrate from this point on will be able to relate to the country.

This will have an important impact on previous emigrants, given that others will begin to arrive whose relations with their country of origin will be pre-established prior to their departure.

This will in the future serve to accelerate change that, with respect to Cuba, is already occurring with current emigrants. This makes it is possible to ask: How will the Cuban emigration be — particularly to the United States — in the next 30 to 40 years?

Undoubtedly it will be very different from the present, gradually ceasing to be a problem for Cuba and a growing one for the United States. Will we return to the era when Florida was part of Cuba?
(*) See Esteban Morales’s blog (Spanish).

3 thoughts on “Cuba: An Intelligent Strategy on Immigration Policy

  • Yes they have and i and my family have been beneficiaries. Sadly this is the only way to help our people

  • One of the great benefits of these reforms will be the increased remittances from the growing number of Cubans living abroad. These remittances will be used to start, expand and grow businesses as well as consumer demand. Such remittances have helped the economies of other North-, Central-American and Caribbean countries. In the beginning, any problems caused by the embargo can be easily circumvented, as evinced by the–lol–recent shenanigans with CubanTransfers!
    By the way, it was fortunate that I followed the advice of my Cuban friend during two recent visits to the Immigration Office in the Vedado (to extend my visitor’s visa); I arrived at 6:00 a.m. By the time the offices opened, at 7:30 a.m. one day, and 8:30 a.m. the second time, the lines for folks wishing to emmigrate had already stretched up-and-around the block. Of course there were far fewer folks wishing to extend their stays in Cuba, as contrasted with those seeking to take advantage of the new emmigration reforms!

  • Fantastic analysis. However you failed to mention that one of the motivations to reform migration policy in Cuba was to attract foreign capital. Not a bad thing but worth mentioning. I do not agree that the US is facing any measurable pressure to respond in kind. Pressure from whom? Yours is a perspective that what happens in Cuba matters to Americans similar to what happens in the US matters to Cubans. Not hardly.

Comments are closed.