Cuba reports highest outflow of citizens since 1994
By Marc Frank
HAVANA | Wed Jul 31, 2013 6:21pm EDT
(Reuters) – The number of Cubans leaving their country has increased
steadily in recent years, the government reported on Wednesday, reaching
levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in
makeshift rafts and rickety boats.
Separately, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced it is
lengthening most visitor visas for Cubans from six months to five years,
allowing them to make multiple U.S. visits over the five-year period
instead of repeatedly applying and paying the $160 fee for the privilege.
Cuba liberalized travel restrictions in January, making it much easier
and less expensive for residents to travel and to return after they
emigrate, and eliminating the confiscation of property of migrants,
perhaps in hopes of slowing the outflow.
The new Cuban travel measures extend to 24 months the amount of time
Cubans can be out of the country without losing rights and they can seek
an extension of up to 24 months more.
In theory, the changes on both sides of the Florida Straits should make
it easier for Cubans not only to travel but to work in the United States
and return home when they want.
According to Cuba’s annual demographic report for 2012 (here), 46,662
Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since
more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what
international observers dubbed the “Rafter Crisis.”
Over the last five years, Cubans have been emigrating at an average
annual rate of more than 39,000, the report said, higher than in any
other five-year period since the earliest years of the revolution.
The figures are not good news for a government facing a demographic
crisis similar to some developed countries where fewer young people must
support a growing elderly population.
The report did not break down migration by age, but it is common
knowledge that many leaving the country are young and educated and a
large proportion eventually wind up in the United States where they are
quickly granted residency even if they entered illegally.
The U.S. announcement followed the resumption of immigration talks
earlier this month after a two-year suspension.
The Obama administration believes the visa extension “will increase
people-to-people contact, support civil society in Cuba; and enhance the
free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people,” a State
Department spokesperson said.
It would also help to further reduce the wait time for visa interview
appointments at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
Since 1994 when the last mass immigration wave increased tensions
between the two ideological foes, on-again-off-again immigration talks
have led to a more orderly, safe and legal flow of Cubans to the United
States, though thousands still arrive by crossing the Mexican and
Canadian borders and some still perish at sea.
Over the past half century, thousands of Cubans have died trying to
cross the treacherous Florida Straits in flimsy boats and homemade
rafts, while hundreds of thousands more have completed the journey, many
of them in the mass migrations in 1965, 1980 and 1994.
The United States now accepts about 20,000 Cubans annually via legal
immigration, as well as family members seeking reunification, and also
takes in those who manage to reach U.S. shores without being intercepted.
Under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, it turns back Cubans picked up at
sea. Almost 1,300 Cubans were repatriated to Cuba in 2012 after failing
to make it to U.S. soil.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Ken Wills)
Source: “Cuba reports highest outflow of citizens since 1994 | Reuters”