Cuba Has an ‘Updated’ Immigration Policy

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso* & Juan Antonio Blanco

HAVANA TIMES — At last, after a year and a half of high-risk pregnancy, Raul Castro’s government has given birth to the “updating” of the nation’s immigration policy.

I have always thought that anything is positive that benefits the Cuban population, eases the immense burdens weighing down on islanders, simplifies their lives and prevents suffering.

Therefore I believe that what has been done is positive. Regulations have been relaxed, irritating fees have been eliminated, and contacts between islanders and Cuban émigrés are going to be facilitated. Many family members and friends will now have less difficulty in reuniting with each other and many immigrants will have to waste less money paying the onerous costs of consular services.

The permitted duration for Cubans temporarily outside the country will be extended to 24 months instead of 11 months, with all the benefits this might bring. For this and many other reasons that the reader will note, what has happened is positive.

Havana’s Jose Marti Airport. Foto: Caridad

On the other hand, if we want to analyze to what extent this signifies an important step in strengthening the status of Cuban citizenship — of émigrés and islanders — then there’s almost nothing to celebrate.

The reason is because the Raul Castro government has only implemented a few changes that improve its political aesthetics, to win support among some sectors of the émigré populations, as well as send a message to the planet that some things are changing.

A Matter of Rights Not Permissions

But beyond these adjectives of relief, the quantitative ones, there have been no fundamental changes. It won’t take long for the excitement created by the headlines announcing the end of an era to give way to the discovery that we are witnessing a renovation of what we’ve experienced before, one that is as superficial as painting buildings on the verge of collapse for the impending visit by a distinguished foreign guest.

Above all, the immigration issue isn’t a matter of permissions, but of rights. There exists extensive international legislation that enshrines the rights to move freely, to emigrate, to return to one’s home country, and also, obviously, not to emigrate.

Despite Cuba being a signatory to all of those covenants, the Cuban government has proceeded to restrict all rights expressed within them. First, it denied them absolutely, and then it proceeded to sell them – always reserving the power to grant and revoke them.

It would have been desirable for the updating to have moved the pre-existing situation in a positive direction, or at least taken some steps forward. But that didn’t happen, and what the updating of the immigration policy offers us is a certain relaxation of permits that the state grants to its subjects, not a reinstatement of rights to its citizens.


Now Cubans won’t be required to present letters of invitation or tarjetas blancas (exit permits), which means a savings of about US $300 and quite a bit of time. However the power of the state to grant permission — and revoke it — remains intact through the processing of passports.

Migration therefore continues to be a mechanism of socio-political enforcement and control of the population, a powerful mechanism for the expropriation of rights in favor of the unappealable power of the post-revolutionary political elite.

The only Cubans who can travel to and from the island are those rewarded for good conduct, which in this case means their learning to shut up and co-exist with what they disapprove.

Although we know that the Cuban state does not permit such sophisticated liberal qualities as transparency, it always lashes out in a confusing manner, like the new legislation establishing the guidelines for exclusion.

It speaks, on the one hand, of punishable sins of those who threaten hard and yet vaporous concepts (“public interest,” “foundations of the Cuban State,” “national security”) without ever defining these concepts or who determines them, while not even saying who is in charge of the thankless task of rejecting unqualified candidates.

Photo: Caridad

On the other hand, people who have important technical functions related to economic/social development will not be able to catch a flight in order to preserve “the skilled workforce of the country,” nor will they be offered any other alternative than forced confinement on the island for five years.

Another issue is the “mutilation issue,” because the Cuban immigration problem isn’t confined to the issue of how free inhabitants of the island can be to travel outside of the island.

There is also the issue of free movement within the island, and here we must remember that the right of Cubans to move freely in the country is curtailed by Decree 217, whereby many Cubans are living in the capital with the same rights and insecurities as undocumented immigrants in any country the world.

This also includes, in a particularly significant manner, the situation of Cubans living in other countries, who constitute most dynamic 15 to 20 percent — economically and demographically — of transnational Cuban society.

At the expense of this sizeable sector, hundreds of thousands of Cuban families eat, dress and cure themselves. They also carry out small-scale private investments that are now the only source of jobs for the island’s impoverished economy. Meanwhile, the state receives substantial resources through fiscal and pricing avenues.

Foto: Caridad

For these people there is no “updating,” except for a pair of tiny concessions relating to the extension of the stays on the island where they were born, whereas right now they’re required to leave within 90 days.

In short, we have obtained something better than the same old thing, though it’s absolutely insufficient. We’re not facing a change in mentality and concepts with respect to immigration.

It’s too bad that it’s like this, because the relationship between the island with what is effectively its community of emigrants — and what the Cuban leaders are determined to see as a problem for managing — is above all an opportunity.

Cubans living outside the island have accumulated substantial financial, technical and intellectual resources that could be much more important for national development than the few fistfuls of dollars that the Cuban political class — in its parasitic yearning to be subsidized — take out of their pockets.

In its emigrants, Cuban society possesses valuable capital for multiplying opportunities when these can be put in contact with the energy and creativity of insular society.

A better future can be built when Cuban society can optimize its undeniable transnational condition.

(*) This article was originally published in Spanish by


22 thoughts on “Cuba Has an ‘Updated’ Immigration Policy

  • One way of countering the potential braindrain surely is to ease immigration to/into the Republic of Cuba.
    Much needed talent would immigrate to Cuba if it was easier.
    I have not heard of any betterments on that front.
    Will it be more easy after Jan 2013?

  • Question?

    Who knows Cuba better than Cubans? And what group of outsiders know best?

  • Cafe is a out of sinc webpage which is against what those of us who live here and have deallt with all of its POLITIK for yrs It has no place here and HT knows it

  • TEACH Moses Gracias

    I have been traveling back and forth for yrs and even before Obama gave Cuban born like myself the go ahead
    I agree with you and each month when i travel home i see and hear what my people are saying They Love Patria but want a bit of freedom to see the earth
    I did and i do But i always return to Angola and Cuba

  • Sir we are aware of everything and everyone Remember we are descendants of slaves for the most part and a 50 yrs embargo..And to date some are still in slavery

  • Thank You for at least this part We do not agree often but on this one on are on target

  • Thank u Moses This is a good thing and if we find comfort elsewhere we all know as i have learned the CUBA is where the heart is..And no travel will change that
    Thus there is no fear

  • Slavery comment is truth And sadly u would not know if u are not an Afro cuban Certainly denial and the idea that what we think is not what u know?

    If u ever visit Come to the museum in my home Matanzas

  • Dawn asks the authors to become ” a force for positive change”. This is not forthcoming in their article. It is also not forthcoming in many articles on this website. And it is definitely not forthcoming in incessant comments from US propagandists.

    After spending some time with HT, I’m now convinced the website is predominantly an anti-government website. “Open-minded writing from Cuba” is only half the sentence. The rest is, “from an American perspective.” It may not be what the editor is consciously aware of, but it effectively is, with few exceptions.

    You, of course, are an American backing what your government is doing to Cuba so will obviously not be happy when Dawn notes the obvious reality.

    You write “Another way in which the travel reform is limited not even mentioned by the authors is the decision to further increase the cost of obtaining a Cuban passport to the equivalent of five month’s salary for the average Cuban. This prohibitive cost makes freedom to travel abroad more of a de jure rather than a de facto right.”

    No country finances its citizens’ travel. Passport fees have risen exorbitantly in my country and countries I am familiar with under the ‘user pays’ mantra. If a Cuban cannot afford the passport fee, they won’t be able to afford to travel in the first place.

    Your comment is a perfect illustration of what US propaganda looks like – an endless stream of negativity. Dawn, I think, is questioning why this is reflected in so-called “open-minded writing from Cuba”. So do I.

  • I don’t see Dilla and Blanco’s article as “bitter criticism of anything and everything done by the Cuban government.” Struck me as a nuanced piece that described the changes as a positive but limited step toward recognizing the rights of islanders and emigres. Another way in which the travel reform is limited not even mentioned by the authors is the decision to further increase the cost of obtaining a Cuban passport to the equivalent of five month’s salary for the average Cuban. This prohibitive cost makes freedom to travel abroad more of a de jure rather than a de facto right.

  • Thank you Alberto,

    I am sick and tired of all of the Revolution’s enemies constant harping on the admittedly oppressive measures taken by the Cubans to counteract the effects of the U.S ‘s 50+ year war on their society.

    Notice that there is not one mention of this long and devastating war against Cuba in any of the posts from its critics yet absent this war, it it highly unlikely that travel restrictions on Cubans would be necessary or exist .

    If and when the U.S. calls off its hostilities, THEN and only then will I join in criticising the revolution should they not then join the rest of the world in freeing up travel.

    As you pointed out, Alberto, the brain drain that so adversely affected the Cuban revolution back in the 60s is very much a part of the U.S war on Cuba’s socialist revolution . The “wet foot-dry-foot ” law, the financial enticements and the propaganda war are all used to try to bleed the Cubans to the point that they give up their socialism, their revolution.

    For the critics of the revolution to not point out the reasons for travel and other restrictions in the midst of an existential war with the greatest power on Earth simply points out the weakness and the clearly counter-revolutionary intent of their thinking.

    Thank you for providing an antidote to their lies of omission.

  • Unless we become as guilty as Americans in wooing Cubans under false pretences, there’s a few things about Alberta and Canada that Cubans should be aware of. Alberta is an oil-rich province but this translates out to a filthy rich 1% whilst the rest are doing worse after the economic collapse.

    Plus, Alberta is one of the coldest provinces in Canada. In winter, the average high temperature in Celsius always has a minus sign in front of it. And that’s the HIGH temperature. The average low is also a negative two-digit figure.

    In Alberta, in common with everywhere else, the poorest income group was the hardest hit by the recession. By 2009, the richest 20% enjoyed 44.3% of the after-tax income whilst the poorest 20% had 4.3%. It makes the median income look good, but who gets paid in medians?

    Cubans, beware of deceitful Americans and too-eager Canadians focused on their own interests, not yours.

  • Cubans are also in Canada and we need more people that want to work hard. The medium family income per year in Alberta is $ 85,000.00

  • Thank-you, Alberto for keeping up the reality quotient on this website. Reality around here is more of an endangered species than the giant Panda.

    The reality of immigration is it rarely lives up to expectations for those who leave their country of birth unless it is out of necessity. My people emigrated from Irealnd during the potato famine to escape starvation.

    This is why what the US is doing is so disgusting – using people as pawns in their political power game. But they are doing the same thing around the world so what can Cubans expect?

  • Re: “This change in migration policy effectively allows Cubans to do what everyone else already does…be a tourist in another country.”

    But in the US, it allows them to do what no other immigrant can do, to “allow Cubans to remain in the visiting country long enough to acquire permanent residence status.”

    You imply Cubans have somehow been more deprived than other immigrants. Let’s tell the whole story.

  • When this law was implemented in 1961-62, it was understandable by most Cubans. The limited amount of professionals, technicians and others the country had, were blatantly encouraged to leave by all sort of enticements by the US government. Doctors, Attorneys, Accountants, Teachers and others received living quarters, a start-up kit, a monthly stipend, grants and all sorts of facilities to obtain their equivalent titles in the US.

    Legal travel documents were waived, the US Naval Base in Guantanamo became a safe haven with food, lodging, a free airline ticket to the United States, emigrant legal documents with work permits and health care coverage.

    These individuals in turn, were the ones to occupy key positions to further ease in the new Cubans arriving in Miami, which made Cubans emigrants for the past 50 years, the “Privilege Ones”, “The Selected Few” among all other emigrants.

    No other national or emigrant community have ever received so much support in the US history, except for Jews. Every possible abuse, corruption, illegalities committed by the Cuban-American community were overlooked in the name of Freedom, Democracy and Death to Castro.

    The longstanding Afro-American community was displaced from their historically held hospitality jobs in Miami Beach, confined to poverty-ridden, drug ravished ghettos in Overtown, Liberty City and Allapatha, brutally segregated, kept ignorant and shot at will, by one of the most vicious police department in the nation.

    The end result of these years of tolerance, impunity, political connections, financial resources, control of political parties and a stranglehold on the US Congress, Senate and whomever is in the White House, is that South Florida have become one of the most corrupt, violent, drug infested region in the country. No where else in the United States, more fraud is committed against Medicare/Aid than in Miami-Dade county.

    Cuba on the other, created the basis to produce, sometimes as many as 10-15 fold the number of professionals, technicians and others that was and continue to be lured out of the country, by keeping this senseless, oppressive measure in place, which have played cruelly in the hands of the US government, who turned Miami into a magnet, leading many to risk and loose their lives in this hazardous crossing.

    Proof of what is said above will be January 15, when we will see the US State Department diligently introducing measures to limit the number Visas that will be granted to those wishing to come to this country legally, safely.

    The United States have never been interested in Cubans “Fleeing Communism”. Their prime interest have been to provide raw material for the evening news in the form of dehydrated, raggedy Cubans arriving in leaking boats or preferably empty boats, after its human cargo have drowned and devoured by sharks.

    Cuba will lose immediately a few thousands of its citizens, who have been mesmerized with the wonders of Hialeah. May each and every Cuban and others of good will in our community be willing to extend a helping hand to the new arrivals into this, the worst socio-economic environment in the US for more than fifty years, to help them survive.

    I am tired to read, hear or see Cubans in Hialeah trying to survive, by peddling limes, flowers, cold water, peanuts or tamales in the busy traffic of 103rd street, only to be crushed to death by moving vehicles, too busy to care.

    May this fifty year old mistake, lead our country to seriously evaluate and remove other absurd, appalling and counterproductive measures in place, which will heal open wounds, restore family links and earn our country hundreds of millions of dollars, with an increase in traffic between Cubans on both sides on the Florida straits and by allowing thousands, who willingly will return to live, enjoy and die under our unique sky and sun.

  • Question Will those that work for Gaviota in the tourist resorts be allowed to leave the country on vacations ?

  • I second ‘Dawn’s statement that ” its really too bad that these authors have decided to assume the role of bitter critics of anything and everything done by Cuba’s government.”

    But I think we need to look further. The slogan of this website is, “open-minded writing from Cuba.” “About Us”, which has now become a full-fledged defence of HT policy, contains, “We are of the conviction that only by giving space to a diverse spectrum of voices is it possible to have a full view of the complex reality.”

    There is a serious omission in this mission statement, however, that I am just beginning to understand. HT DOES give “space to a diverse spectrum of voices” but it is lopsided space, overwhelmingly weighted in favour of critics of the Cuban government

    At first, I assumed this was to address lack of space given to them elsewhere, but that is not what the stated policy is and now, with the immigration issue, we are seeing article after article of writers bitching about the immigration change instead of wholeheartedly welcoming it. It gives the impression that Cubans are just a bunch of whiners, never happy with what they are given.

    The lopsided editorial content is matched by lopsided comments by dedicated US propagandists incessantly posting anti-government material that the rest of us have to deal with on a daily basis and can never hope to keep up with. The editor has refused to address this, instead stating he “appreciates their input.”

    The model HT is following is the same one that corporate media here follows to make it appear it is offering a ‘balanced’ service – carry a few items from one side whilst the preponderance of material represents the other.

    I’ve decided I’m not sure what I’m looking at. The editor feels he’s being objective but I feel if that’s the case, his personal biases are affecting his judgement. Is that all there is?

  • Your referred to Cubans as slaves in another comment, on leashes. You seem to be obsessed with this image. I expect most Cubans would find this highly insulting. But you don’t seem to be trying to win popularity contests on HT.

    Instead of greeting a relaxation of a government restriction as good news as everyone save you and ‘Moses’ have done in comments, you characterise Cubans as slaves. So what are we looking at here? Not someone who cares about Cubans, it seems, but someone who is focused on bringing down its government and making Cubans slaves of your government – the US Empire?

  • It’s really too bad that these authors have decided to assume the role of bitter critics of anything and everything done by Cuba’s government, instead of becoming a force for positive change like the members of Cuban Americans For Engagement have. I can only conclude that their numerous talks with Cuba’s authorities on this issue helped to make this major reform finally happen. I hope that HT will publish CAFE members’ articles on the subject too, although this has not been the case in the past.

  • This change in migration policy effectively allows Cubans to do what everyone else already does…be a tourist in another country. Before this change, Cubans who travelled were able to do so only through a ¨sponsor¨ such as a work contract, marriage. or letter of invitation. This will also allow Cubans to remain in the visiting country long enough to acquire permanent residence status which is usually one year without losing their rights as a citizen in Cuba.

  • A very interesting report, Haroldo.

    While any improvement is welcome, the new travel laws seem to amount to little more than a longer leash for obedient slaves of the Cuban regime.

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