Migration Costs and Benefits for Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg

Leaving Cuba involves cumbersome procedures. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 12 — Referring to the expected changes in immigration policy, a Cuban-American colleague wrote: “Not only is it absurd, but it is totally irresponsible to think that Cuba must open the doors to its borders wide open.” (1).

Certainly no country opens “its borders wide open,” but that’s not what’s being discussed today in Cuba. Rather, the discussion is around the right of citizens to enter and leave the island without undergoing lengthy, complicated, unnecessary and expensive procedures.

My colleague reminds us that “there is a war against Cuba” and he asserts that Washington maintains a high level of political hostility, prosecutes international financial transactions with the island and maintains the economic embargo.

But what I don’t understand is how you defend the country by requiring travelers to pay $150 USD for a letter of invitation to leave the country, which also means finding a foreigner to “take responsibility” for the Cuban abroad.

It’s as if Cuban citizens were children or mentally disabled, unable to fend for themselves. Also, since no one investigates the “inviter,” this poses the risk that the worst of criminals will end up as the “guardians” of the most honest Cubans.

President Raul Castro said that in the area of migration reforms he would move slowly and gradually, measuring the impact of each step. They tell me that he was referring to its effects on national security as well as on the “brain drain.”

Therefore I think that the “Letter of Invitation” will disappear very soon because it doesn’t provide much control and nor does it prevent the departure of professionals. Really, it only serves to generate dollars out of the irritation of citizens.

The paperwork to leave Cuba is around $ 400. Photo: Raquel Perez

Something similar will happen with the duration of time people will be permitted to reside outside the country. It’s hard to believe that national security would be threatened if Cubans abroad spent more than 11 months away. This seems to be just another measure that to make money off of discomfort.

One would have to calculate the balance between what is collected and the political cost paid for it. I know people who started the immigration process for economic reasons and eventually left the island full of resentment against the government.

In the 1960s, the costs didn’t vary because those who left the country were economic and political enemies of the revolution. But now even the government acknowledges that people are emigrating to improve their standard of living.

Certainly the immigration issue can’t be seen outside of the confrontation with Washington. One needs only mention the operation that took 14,000 children from Cuba without their parents in the 60’s or the fact that US visas are now offered to Cuban doctors.

They attack where it hurts. It’s no coincidence that the White House offers such opportunities to doctors and not to bricklayers. Physicians who carry out service missions abroad are now the main source of income for the Cuban economy.

During external conflicts all politicians argue that it’s necessary to restrict civil liberties. This is not a not a new argument and nor is it one that’s exclusively Cuban – as is well demonstrated through the US Patriot Act signed into law in 2001.

But citizens should keep an eye out that the restrictions on civil rights are only the essential ones, preventing politicians tempted to take advantage of emergencies to resolve other problems of a domestic nature.

Some of Cuba’s immigration regulations are semi-secret. Photo: Raquel Perez

In the case of Cuba, there are also some immigration regulations that are not public, so Cubans never know whether the official who denied them their exit permit was acting within the law or was going around those laws currently in force.

My colleague’s article ends by saying that “Cuba will open the door to whoever it wants, whenever it wants and in the way it wants.” This is logical reasoning as long as when it refers to “Cuba” it means the Cuban nation as a whole.

There is no doubt that a country has the right to legally regulate migration according to its needs, but to speak of “Cuba” means that, in addition to the government and the authorities, the majority of its citizens support those measures.

I didn’t do a formal survey, but none of the Cubans I know is in agreement with the semi-secret immigration regulations, paying $400 USD for the world’s most convoluted paperwork or having to beg foreigners for a “Letter of Invitation.
(1) http://www.kaosenlared.net/america-latina/item/3179-sobre-tibores-y-taburetes/3179-sobre-tibores-y-taburetes.html

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

18 thoughts on “Migration Costs and Benefits for Cuba

  • “With the information I provided above I show that your statement about the majority of Cuban going out after the special period is false.”

    Since I’ve already admitted that I was partly wrong, this is a no-point.

  • Luis

    This one is one of the graph about possible predictions for the population of Cuba in the coming years


    This comes from the same site as before.

    With the information I provided above I show that your statement about the majority of Cuban going out after the special period is false. Even the Cuban regime knows this. That there is a correlation between the migration and their regime be economical or political it does not matter since the end result is the same. People running away from them.
    If they were sure that people will not go they would have allow exits a long time ago.

  • “Anyways, I do not think my conclusion is incorrect.”

    Of course you don’t 😉

  • What’s difficult is to establish a common parameter for Cuban migration – my data says one thing, your graph shows another figure, Wikipedia says something completely different and so on.

  • Luis I agree this issue deserves a deeper analysis that only few people can make. We have very little statistical information from Cuba.
    It is undeniable that there is a huge migration that can not be hide away. No matter what, they are there, well I mean everywhere ! Europe, US, Russia, even in Africa and Australia. If they had permanent settlements in the north pole they already probably have a Cuban 🙂 well maybe that’s going too far!

    Anyways, I do not think my conclusion is incorrect.

    Totalitarian regimes do produce this typical curve the same kind of curve that Cuba has. My hypothesis is that is link to the totalitarian nature of the system. Of course this is difficult to prove specially since totalitarian regimes do not like to submit themselves to inspection.

  • By the way Luis.
    From the graph I placed about the migration from 1962 to 2011 the total comes out at 1.45 millions
    with about 782,000 from 1962 to 1990 that will probably make a total of about 1 million (The numbers from 1959,1960, 1961) are not included and very likewise the migration in those first years was extremely high.
    We do not know if this numbers include only the legal migration or everything.

  • About the shrinking Raul Castro have mentioned himself if I recall correctly. This is know information.

    See here an article I wrote about similarities between Cuba and Russia and North Korea Population growth (Spanish only)


    Luis, Here is more on the shrinking

    the information comes from “Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas” Cuban National Office of Statistics.


    For the birth rate information see this
    Cuba is 192 in the list that means the closer to the bottom the lower the birth rate is.

    There was one speech Raul mentioned that they were increasing the age for retirement and the reason I believe he gave was because Cuban population was changing. Too few young people and too many old. I look for the speech and posted here if I find it.



    Here is some statistical information about Cuban migration


    The graph is from a link here


  • Julio, I think you’re taking your personal experience and trying to make it ‘the rule’.

    About my data, I admit I was partly wrong – “Shortly after Fidel Castro came into power and during the early years of the revolutionary period, about 215,000 Cubans immigrated to the U.S” – http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/cubanimmigration.html

    The ‘rafters’ from the 90?s – present represents the other big chunk of Cuban emigrants –
    “Cubans had been entering the United States on a continuous basis after Fidel Castro took over, but it was not until the summer of 1994 that the U.S. experienced a huge wave of immigrants from Cuba.”

    And what about your “statistical information about Cuba, one can see that the Cuban population will start shrinking soon.”?

  • Luis, I think you are smart enough to know that one thing does not imply the other.
    Assuming that the majority got out after the Special period. (Where did you get this information? What is your source?)
    That does not imply that the reason is because of the hard times Cuba faced during that period. There could be many other reasons. For example. People tired and fatigue of the stubbornness of the leaders persisting in a path that they perceived as a road to nowhere. Unless we seat down and ask each their actual reasons we will be guessing. One thing is clear. They left and that is a big undeniable vote of NO towards the current regime. Be economical or political and as I was saying I do not see any big lines of people wanting to return. Even if they were letting people to return.

    It is possible that many people could return if there was real change that allow for multiple political parties to form and the creation of a true democracy.

    What I mentioned above is base on the know statistical principle

    Correlation does not imply causation


  • “We can argue if it is economics or political but for a socialist regime is economic any different than political?”

    I don’t think so, because the vast majority of Cuban immigrants left the country during or after the so-called “Special Period”, that’s it, they emigrated for economic reasons.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that the Cuban immigration reform must be done ASAP.

  • Alberto,
    Probably very close to one 100 percent of those Cubans living in exile now left Cuba without anything material. They started a new life from nothing in a foreign land. Some did not even know other languages than their own native spanish. It is hard to make such decision. The decision of leaving one’s family, friends known places and customs for a place and people one does not know. Yet, even now many people in Cuba do make that choice. It is their right to make such choice. Why do they make such choice? Is it because they lack information? The Cuban government saturates their media with propaganda about how terrible life is in any capitalist society yet we can see the result. More than 50 thousand had gotten their spanish passport with the hopes to migrate to europe. Many others have launch their hopes into to the see with their eyes towards the US. Do they believe the Cuban regime propaganda? No.

    Even worst. If one looks at statistical information about Cuba, one can see that the Cuban population will start shrinking soon. They have manage to have one of the lowest birth rates in the world while provoking a hight rate of migration. That points to a vote of the people. People do not like the regime. We can argue if it is economics or political but for a socialist regime is economic any different than political? Both are interwind.

    Not every place here in the US or in any other place is like you describe above, what you describe is an exception. I know of very many other cubans that are doing very well. Yet, many do feel nostalgia for their land and it is natural. What is not natural is a regime that prohibit Cubans to enter and exit their own home as they like to.

  • Hola Julio,

    Measuring how many people goes in one direction or another is not precisely the way to establish what is happening or their real feelings. My concerns with my fellow Cubans is because, I come across so many counting the days, as if in prison, they need before they can return to visit. Their longing heartbreaking and worst, the thousands that are frustrated, disappointed, but have no escape route.

    A poor township a few miles away from my home, which is 60% white, 30% black and 10 % Hispanic, most of whom are poor, on welfare, drugs, school drop-out and lots of hopelessness, whom I try to help by tutoring their middle and high school kids, while instilling hope in them to do better, remind them there is a world out there for which they must strive, most of them, except for work purposes, have never traveled 30-40 miles away from home.

    Does this mean they are happy and satisfied with life in their run-down community?

    As important as food, material goods, even development maybe, there is the other powerful cultural/historical feelings in us, that once we have overcome our basic needs, for which we may or may not have migrated, we tend to wish to return to those simple things that are psychologically an integral part of us .

    Let me conclude by adding, that in the mid sixties I spent some time in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) where there was everything, any ordinary individual would aspire in life. Later, I made a short stop in Checoeslovaquia and Spain, but ended returning to Cuba. Fool me?

    In closing, tens of thousands of elderly Cubans have applied to return to Cuba to live and die, but because of Cuba’s stringent regulations, they are still here. What explains such decision and willingness to leave behind 40-50 years of American Way Of Life? Saludos.

  • This figure is highly inflated, because it counts the sons and grandsons of the first immigration wave from the beginning of the Revolution.

  • money is more than $400 just for the permit, but this is just a side dish, important and lucrative, but still secondary
    the most important is the exercise of power from the State (the same for 50 years) to Cubans (slaves for 50 years)

  • I was going to make a long and winded answer but my reply to Alberto Jones and Landis is a question.

    How many Cubans are returning from the US to Cuba if things are so bad here? Show me please.
    The believe is that there is close to 2 millions exile Cubans, that’s about 20 percent of Cuban population that prefer to live in another country in freedom than in their own homeland as slave.

  • Thanks for your lengthy response, Alberto N. Jones, to Ravsberg’s insightful article. Althoug it is often as you describe, also, and especially for the young, ambitious and energetic, the outcome is much more positive. Shortly after retiring, three years ago, I spent five months working on the front desk of a hotel withing Yellowstone National Park. Many of my coworkers, guest services agents, like myself, and also maids, waiters and waitresses, food service workers, etc. etc., were on temporary labor contracts from China, the Ukraine, Turkey, Taiwan, etc. etc. Not only did they often work one job at the hotel, but also many hand multiple second- and even third-jobs at a nearby “gateway” town, at restaurants, motels, food markets, etc. While many returned, some elected to remain in the U.S. after their visa had expired. Whether they stayed or returned home, they all saved substantial amounts. If you’re willing to work hard, often you can get ahead. OTOH, I noted a disproportionate number of my compatriots seemed to drop by the wayside over the five months I was there, through problems with drinking, with drugs, with domestic violence, etc. Many of my compatriots from what was once the working class seem to have fallen into what Marx would have called the lumpenproletariat. They had become deracienated, incapable of making a consistent commitment to work. It was sad to see this happening, but as a student of history, I have read about it during other historical epochs (e.g. the declining days of the Roman Empire, when the exhausted residents of the Italian penninsula were ever more replaced by the citizens from the Empires periphery–or even beyond its frontiers. Perhaps the best advice for ambitious Cubans at this point would be not, as in a former time here in the U.S., to “head West, young man, head West!” Rather, they should head South or, even to head East–and learn Manderin!

  • Like most things that are denied in life, they tend to achieve a greater importance on its own. So it has been with this mishandled decision of Cuba, to attempt to control the free movement of its people, all of which, was born out of supposedly defensive reactions to the United States aggressive actions against Cuba.

    Backing up in time and presenting some facts, may help us better understand this complex, psychological behavior.

    It was shortly after WW II, that a migrating fever to the US, invaded hundreds of maids working at the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo, after one or two other maids working for high ranking officers on this facility, had their boss put together the legal paperwork, take them back to the US, in exchange of working for them as live-in maids, for a minimum of 2 years. A great bargain for the military officers, taking into account that in Cuba they were paid between 25 and 35 dollars a month for an average 10 hours a day, 26 days a month job.

    For most of these women, a $100.00 monthly salary in the US was now heaven. My mother spent hundreds of her hard earned $35.00 a month wages with Enrique Moreno, a paralegal who prepared the paperwork for everyone hoping to head to the US. Sadly, it was not until October 22, 1962, the beginning of the Missile Crisis, that my mother was able to become and “exile” on Gitmo, travel to the US a few years later, where she continued to work in housekeeping in New York, until my arrival in 1980, when she was able to retire with my financial help until she passed away in 2001. What type of life would she would endure in New York on her own, will never be known.

    Prior to 1959, only Cubans who could demonstrate having $500.00 or more would be granted a three months tourist visa to enter the US. 90% plus Cubans never had $500.00 to apply and those who did, would have preferred to buy a horse and cart or open a corner store (ventorrillo) and start a small business of their own. Therefore, emigration to the US until that period, was limited to a selected few upper class families, visiting Miami or New York for fun and business.

    The Naval Base in Guantanamo change its initial purposes of a military training facility and prostitution center of Guantanamo city, it suddenly became a migration magnet after mid 1959, with the increase hostility between both countries. It’s radio station WGBY became bi-lingual and openly encouraged everyone to flee to freedom. Civilian employees were encouraged to spread the good tidings. No one prior to this date, dared to jump the 8 feet high peerless perimeter fence or attempt to swim across the bay into the base without a PASS, knowing they would land for three days minimum in the Briggs (Jail) with a bread and water ration, possibly ruffed-up and kicked-back into Cuba.

    Suddenly, this same facility became a “heaven” enticing people from all over Cuba. Counterrevolutionaries committing political crimes being sought by Cuban authorities or ordinary criminals knew, all they needed was to get beyond the fence and they would be provided with shelter (bunk in military type barracks) meals, working papers (I-94) and a free flight back to the US. How many thousands of Cubans took advantage of this newly created safe haven or how many were maimed or killed in the world second largest land mine field built on both sides of this border, is known only to the Cuban and US authorities.

    Similarly, a number of man-made crisis between both countries occurred every so often: Camarioca, Liberty Flights, The Mariel Boatlift, the Rafter Crisis, the Peter Pan’s, the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Wet Foot/Dry Foot Program, the worldwide luring of Cubans abroad into the US, all supported by the Federal Government, which provided in the beginning start up cash to defecting Physicians, Teachers, Engineers and other professionals, housing facilities, monthly stipend and “Special Regimen” to validate their Cuban Diploma.

    These and many other factors, have created a Disney-like mentality of the US in the minds of Cubans, the only people in the world, who receive these and many other enticements to migrate to this country. Even today, the only illegal citizens in the world who do not need to hide from police are Cubans, who, once they arrive illegally in the US, the find the first phone available and they dial 9-1-1 and tell the police where they are, knowing they will be picked- up, kept in an immigration detention facility over night and the next day, they will be provided with legal documents enabling them to work, some (less and less with the passing of time) of social security, SSI supplement of food, healthcare coverage, housing assistance and wait calmly for the next one year and one day, to apply for your Permanent Resident Card or Green Card and triumphantly return to visit your hometown in Cuba.

    While other immigrants of the world live in fear and hiding from Immigration Officers for the rest of their lives, Cubans are able to brag and enjoy the American Way of Life openly, with one important caveat.

    When other immigrants may have a change of mind, their expectation fall short, life in the US becomes untenable as is seen frequently among Mexican and Central Americans, all they need to do, is purchase a return airline ticket to their country of origin or load their old, raggedy pick-up truck with their one wheel bike, household goods, tools etc., and drive south to the Texas, California or Arizona border, back to their point of origin.

    Unfortunately for Cubans, once they have taken this same defining decision as others, they cannot afford a change of mind, failure or otherwise, since this is mostly a One Way Trip, with little of no way to change your mind and return home. Here is when the untold tragedy begins, which may mean bagging in supermarkets after 70-80 years old, selling bottle water, avocado or fruits in the middle of traffic on Hialeah main thorough fare, getting hit and killed by moving vehicle, homelessness, victims of street predatory crimes, homelessness, no medical insurance and more.

    My final words for those deciding to do exactly what I did 30 years ago, please do your homework carefully. Get precise answers from those encouraging you to migrate as to where will you live and work, what basic skills you must have and how ready mentally you must be, to be willing to work -if you find one- anytime, any day, anywhere, under whatever weather conditions may exist.

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