In what is
perhaps the greatest development in travel in Cuba’s history, President Raul
the end of tough travel restrictions starting 14 January 2013, making it
easier for millions of Cubans to leave the communist country.
landmark move marks the first time in five decades that Cubans will be able to
travel outside their country without a tourist visa or an invitation from a
resident in their destination country. Under the new policy, Cubans will need
only a passport, national identity card, and, if required by the country they
are visiting, a visa from their destination. The new travel measures also
extend the period of time Cubans can spend overseas, from the current 11 months
to 24. The new policy is part of an immigration initiative by President Raul
Castro’s government to make it easier for Cubans to go abroad, study and earn
money, some of which it is hoping will be sent back to their homeland.
mark the first major reform to Cuba’s travel and immigration policies in half a
century. Fidel Castro enacted
the travel restrictions after the Cuban Revolution in 1961 to prevent
Cuba’s intellectuals from fleeing the country en masse. Cubans and outsiders,
including human rights activists, have long protested the policy, seen as
overly restrictive and punitive.
decisions legalising the personal sales of homes and cars, this is another step
in the direction of loosening restrictions and opening up Cuban society,” Sarah
Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas,
a Washington group opposed to the US embargo on Cuba, told
everyone will be free to travel under the new policy. Restrictions will remain
on many doctors, members of the military and athletes, which Cuba attributes to
reasons of national defence and security.
the reform means many more Cubans will be travelling. Monday, the first day of
the government’s new travel rules, saw scores of Cuban citizens lining up at
travel agencies and migration offices.
cities and countries can expect to see an influx of Cuban visitors? Miami, home
to the largest Cuban community outside of the communist island, will be a
popular destination, as will Orlando, a favourite vacation spot for many
Cubans, thanks to it being the home of Walt Disney World. Ecuador may be
another hotspot, as the country has no visa requirements, making it easier for
Cubans to visit.
experts don’t expect a mass exodus from the island, as most countries,
including the US and many nations in Europe and South America, still require
Cubans to obtain visas, which may not be easy due to fears that those granted
tourist visas will not want to return.
also has US-Cuba analysts questioning what effect the eased travel rules will
have on US-Cuba relations. The US broke
diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s communist
takeover, and relations between the two countries have been poor ever since.
For now, the US hasn’t announced any changes to its Cuba policy.
accepts about 20,000 Cubans annually via legal immigration, in addition to
family members seeking reunification and those who manage to make it to US
shores. Under the controversial “wet
foot, dry foot policy”, US authorities turn back Cubans picked up at sea
but allows those who make it to US soil to stay, even fast-tracking their
citizenship. Over the past century, thousands of Cubans have died attempting to
cross the Florida Straits in makeshift boats and rafts.
obviously welcome any reforms that will allow Cubans to depart from and return
to their country freely,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland
said in a US State Department briefing on the matter. “We are analysing,
obviously, all of the details and any implications it may have for our
processing [of Cubans seeking to travel to the United States].”
Cuba is still restricted for US citizens. Due to a long-standing trade embargo
against Cuba, Americans must
obtain a license from the US government to visit Cuba – similar, in fact,
to Cuba’s prior exit permit requirement.
noted John McAuliffe of the Fund for
Reconciliation and Development, which advocates for better US-Cuba
new policy means that “Cuba now gives its citizens more freedom to travel
to the US than the US gives its citizens to travel to Cuba.”