Cuban Immigration Offices Overflowing

Fernando Ravsberg*

Immigration offices are full of people attempting to obtain passports before the price goes up on January 14. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Thousands of Cubans are lining up outside of Immigration Agency offices to apply for passports before January 14, the date on which the new law takes effect that will ease the entry and exit from the country by most citizens.

For many Cubans, next month will mean the disappearance of letters of invitation and exit permits, whose cost implied paying $350 USD for each trip and the prospective travelers getting bogged down in cumbersome, prolonged and additional paperwork.

The cost of a passport will increase from $50 to $100 USD, however the Immigration Agency is informing people that anyone with a previously valid passport can have it reauthorized so that it can be used until its final expiration date.

Many people who don’t even plan to leave the country are going through the process of obtaining a passport at half price just in case they’re presented with an opportunity to leave the country over the next six years, the duration of a Cuban passport.

Some, but not everybody

In an immigration line in the “October 10 Municipality,” retiree Rafael Perez told us that he has a stepdaughter who lives in Spain, therefore he wants to have his passport ready “so I’ll have one less expense in case I go see her someday.”

He supports the new law because it will “bring more unity to families to the extent that you can visit without it being as expensive as before.”

But not everyone will have the same luck as Rafael, because we know that some people won’t benefit from the reform.

Ivon Celestrín, a doctor getting her passport to be able to visit her daughter. Photo: Raquel Perez

Physician Ivon Celestrin has a 15-year-old daughter who will soon be traveling to the US to reunite with her father. The doctor is getting a passport because she hasn’t lost the hope of one day being able to go see her daughter if the laws continue to be relaxed.

“For me it creates a problem because I’m a doctor. But when my daughter leaves, I’ll begin a tireless struggle to achieve a status that will allow me to travel to see her regularly,” explained the physician while standing in the immigration line.

On your marks!

Anabel Castaneda told us that after the immigration reform was announced, her 73-year-old father was invited by his brothers in New York for the first time in 50 years, so “I want to take advantage of the chance to get a passport because if I wait it will cost me twice as much.”

Yuri Orlando Morales is married to a Dutch woman and is leaving the country, but before departing he wants to have his whole family ready to travel. “I brought my sister and my dad. You have to obey the law but you also have to take advantage of it when it’s to your benefit,” he reasons.

“My in-laws are in Angola, they’re economists. I’m a metal worker and I want to go live with them. I’ll see if I can get a job there. But you have to save all you can, which is why I’m getting a passport now, while it’s cheaper,” said Osmel Faez, a graduate from the trade school set up by the Havana Historian’s Office.


There are always losers, and this time they’ll be the independent workers who live off of the services they provide to people to help with their paperwork and immigration processing. Photo: Raquel PerezBut not all Cubans see the new immigration law as a relief; on the contrary, for them it raises the risk of their losing good jobs and incomes that are higher than any state employee.

Marte Aria, for example, lives near an immigration office and has worked making passport photos, and copying and printing many of the documents that were required of potential travelers to get their exit permits.

“Having to give up that job is a blow for me because I’ll lose what has been my source of financial wellbeing,” she said. She went on to explain that beginning in January, the photos that appear in the printed document will be handled within the Immigration Agency office.

Juan Carlos Vazquez used to type out the forms “for passports, visas, etc.,” he said, adding that: “on the 14th I’ll stop working; I’ll cease to exist because presumably they won’t have to fill out any paperwork anymore. I don’t even want to think about it.”
(*) See Fernando Ravsberg’s blog at

15 thoughts on “Cuban Immigration Offices Overflowing

  • Why do so many Cubans want to leave Cuba? Why doesn’t the government change whatever it is that drives the people away? Cuba was once a destination of immigrants. It can be again. But Cuba will have to be a place were Cubans feel the have a future.

  • Ojala if the Castros felt the way you say you feel! If every Cuban who wanted to leave had a visa and a one-way ticket in hand, Cuba would be a ghost town! I agree with you that most Cubans wrongly believe that life outside will be a cakewalk, but despite the struggles, the overwhelming majority never regret their decision to leave. Sure, they miss family and that feeling you can only feel when your feet are planted in your mother country but no one misses the blackouts, shortages, poor salaries, poor food, crappy houses, crappy roads, (shall I go on?) etc. You and your strong backbone can ignore the tens of thousands of your countrymen who have risked their lives unsucessfully fleeing your paradise in unseaworthy rafts.You can also make excuses for the young women and men who sell their bodies if not their souls to find a foreigner to sponsor their dreams of escaping but please don’t think that by attacking people who leave you have done something new. The Beasts of Biran coined the phrase “gusanos” long ago.

  • Thank u Circles Knowledge is power Keep sharing

  • I was born in Angola, raised in Cuba of an Angolan mother and a Cuban father Angola is a great place it has done much with Cuba’s support to achieve many great things. Things would be better if USA would mind its business..I travel to Angolan often to visit and if anything terrible happened in Cuba that would be my choice.

  • Why get upset? Let all who wish to emigrate leave We do not need people with a small backbones.Some of us are Cubans who believe in Libertad o Muerte
    Now so many think freedom is in the USA lol or elsewhere however, they shall learn that if a mind is not free the body is not free
    Suffice, again people have the right to make that choice I say Adios Vayas con Dios

  • No you’re not a skeptic, you are a sophist.

  • In October, when I had to renew my tourist visa to stay a few weeks longer, I visited the immigration office on Calle 15 in Vedado (a few blocks from the Bertolt Brecht Theatre); to do this in a timely manner, I had to arrive around 5:30 a.m. (the office opens ’til 8:30 a.m.). By 7:00 a.m. the lines stretched down the street to Calle K, and around the block. Unlike me, however, most of these folks were trying to emmigrate. (Incidentally, there was a thriving, street-side business of folks with typewriters who were typing up the documents of those seeking to emmigrate–the new economy!) Still, there were a goodly number, mostly expatriate Cubans, but also some estranjeros with girl-friends or boy-friends, who were trying to extend their visas. As ill-luck would have it, I had to return yet again (another early-rising morning) with verification I was staying at either a registered casa particular or hotel. Both times, however, I was out of the hurley-burley by mid-morning.

  • Call me a sceptic, but let’s just wait three more weeks or so until January 14. I have every confidence that the Castros have figured out a way to screw this up and when they do, yes, I will complain.

  • These US Secretary of State representatives are incredible. They turn good news to bad news, or irrelevant news, just to nitpick. I remember talking about traveling abroad being in fact a privilege all around the world because of the costs involved in it and then I was confronted with ‘do not confuse a privilege with a right’. Well, Cubans now have this ‘right’, deal with it, you’ve got NO reason to complain anymore about it.

  • Does anyone know if the following fees will continue to be paid to the Cuban “government”?? And what about all those tests etc. that have to be paid in dollars or CUC’s??

    HAVANA TIMES : The (Non) Right of Cubans to Travel -Haroldo Dilla Alfonso-February 1, 2010-

    On top of this, once in the destination country, the traveler must make payments to the Cuban embassy in that country a sum that varies each month they remain in that country, which is a highly uncustomary practice. This sum fluctuates between $40 and $150 a month.


  • My wife and I have friends in Cuba who have expressed a certain indifference to these emigration (I agree with Griffin) reforms and resent the attention the foreign press have given to these changes in Cuban policy. Their disdain is grounded in the reality that the majority of Cubans do not have a relative or close friend who lives abroad who will or can afford to pay the costs for the passport, visa, and airline ticket, not to mention hosting the Cuban once they arrive in the foreign country. Just to add insult to injury, those Cubans with relatives abroad outside of Miami are overrepresented by families with jineteras and jineteros who met a tourist and managed to leave the country. In one particular case, both of our friends are engineers who come from a family of mostly professionals. No one in their family has left the country so there is no one abroad to sponsor their travel costs. They hope that more attention will be paid to economic reforms that will bring about changes so that they will be able to pay for their travel costs from their own resources. Their current combined salaries do not exceed $38.00 per month. Just the airline ticket alone from Havana to anywhere outside the country is at least $300. If you add visa and passport costs to this, they can not hope to travel to even nearby Mexico for less than $1500, plus lodging in Mexico. Still, my wife and I have tried to be encouraging by saying that these emigration reforms are at the least symbolic of future real changes to take place soon.

  • Most countries refer to the office that deals with immigration and emigration as their immigration office.

  • Is there a translation error?

    “Immigration” refers to the movement of people into a country. Nobody is moving to Cuba. “Emigration” refers to the movement of people out of a country. That is what is happening in Cuba: people are leaving. Before the revolution, people used to move to Cuba. Since 1959 there has been a steady exodus. Unless the Cuban government can reverse this trend the nation will face a demographic collapse within 20 years. Banning emigration didn’t work as tens of thousands of Cubans continued to leave every year anyway. How about creating a decent society based on freedom and respect for human rights where people will actually want to live?

  • One thing this article doesn’t discuss is the fact that it costs a mint to have a relative visit abroad and that the people outside the country are the ones paying for it all. With the economic crisis being faced by the entire world most people simply don’t have the means to do that any more. Many, many Cubans will be very disappointed when they have to face that reality such as the doctor who thinks she’s going to be visiting her daughter on a regular basis. Back in the late 80s, I had an aunt of mine visit in the US and spend about three months with me, the entire trip cost me upwards of $4,000 between the bureaucratic requirements, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, work missed not to mention that she was acaparando (hugging) stuff like a mule and all her capricious wishes had to be met, all of which had a cost I had to pay for. People don’t realize the sacrifices those of us on the outside have to make in order to allow them to visit. And as I said before, those days are over.

  • You know how good things are when people are leaving Cuba for Angola.

Comments are closed.