Can Cubans immigrate to the USA

"Migration and Population" newsletter

Stefan Alscher

Stefan Alscher is a research assistant at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in the research field "Worldwide and irregular migration, Islam, demography, research transfer, scientific management of the doctoral program". He is editor of the newsletter "Migration and Population". Email: [email protected]

After the heads of government in the United States and Cuba announced a resumption of diplomatic relations in mid-December 2014, the first official talks between representatives of both countries took place in January. The topic of Cuban migration to the USA was also dealt with.

On December 17, 2014, both US President Barack Obama (Democrats) and Cuban Head of State and Government Raúl Castro (Communist Party) announced a resumption of diplomatic relations. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the proclamation of a socialist republic in 1961, the then US government broke off diplomatic relations with the island nation. In addition, after the failed attempt to invade the Bay of Pigs, the USA imposed a trade, economic and financial embargo on Cuba, which for the most part still exists today.

Since the revolution, numerous Cubans have fled to the USA, initially mainly for political and later mainly for economic reasons, where the Cuban community grew continuously. A total of around 1.1 million Cuban immigrants live in the USA; together with their descendants born in the USA, the Cuban population comprises around 2 million people.

Cuban migrants entering US territory have generally been treated as political refugees since the Cuban Adjustment Act 1966. After a minimum of one year in the United States, Cuban immigrants can apply for a Legal Permanent Residency (LPR). A 1994 agreement also provides for at least 20,000 US immigrant visas to be issued to Cuban citizens annually. In addition to the data on refugees, these are included in the statistics of permanent residence permits.

A bilateral agreement from 1995, however, provides that Cubans apprehended on the high seas are sent back to Cuba by the US Coast Guard and no longer treated as refugees (so-called "wet foot / dry foot" policy). These offshore attacks have been increasing continuously since 2010 (see table). This trend seems to be continuing. In 2014, 2,111 people were arrested on the high seas, and in the first three weeks of January 2015, 712 people were arrested.
Selected aspects of migratory movements between Cuba and the USA

After the exit liberalization decided by the Cuban government at the end of 2012 (cf. edition 9/12), the number of "non-immigrant" visas for Cuban citizens issued in the USA rose from 20,200 to 36,787 (+82%) within one year (see edition 7/13). These are mainly tourist visas.

On January 21st and 22nd, government representatives from both countries met for the first time in the Cuban capital Havana. It also dealt with migration issues. The declared aim of both sides is to create "legal, safe and orderly immigration and emigration". They pledged to expand cooperation to prevent illegal migration. The main point of contention at the meeting was the regulation of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the resulting consequences. The Cuban government is calling for it to be terminated, as the prospect of a secure residence status is tantamount to an invitation to irregular migration. The US delegation refused to abolish this regulation.

The Cuban delegation leader Josefina Vidal also criticized the "Cuban Medical Professional Parole" introduced under George W. Bush (Republican) in 2006. According to this regulation, Cuban health professionals working in third countries also have privileged access to the United States. Cuban medics are deployed around the world, especially in developing countries.

While the Republican opposition and leading representatives of the Cubans in exile heavily criticized the rapprochement between the two states, an opinion poll by Florida International University shows that a growing section of the Cuban community in the USA is in favor of opening up to Cuba. Around two thirds (68%) are in favor of restoring diplomatic relations, and in younger population groups (18-29 years) even 88%.

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