Cuba Lifts Exit Visa Requirements, Raising Possibility of Exodus to Latin America

Categories: La Habana
cubaposter.jpg
Many Cubans could soon be leaving their country behind.
This morning, the Cuban government made its biggest immigration policy change in five decades by scrapping its longstanding rule requiring exit visa for Cubans traveling abroad. Now, Cubans with passports can travel anywhere in the world -- including the U.S., apparently -- as long as the country of destination issues them a visa.

The change could make a massive difference in the lives of the Cuban people, not to mention U.S.-Cuba relations. Could Miami soon see a brand new influx of Cubans? Maybe.


"For last 50-something years, Cubans have not been allowed to leave the country," says Jose Azel, senior researcher at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. "That has been a major irritant to the Cuban people. In that sense it is a significant change. How it comes into practice, however, remains to be seen."

The changes, which eliminate the onerous and expensive exit permits that have long kept most Cubans from traveling, were announced on the website of Cuban government mouthpiece Granma. They will go into effect on January 14, 2013.

Some restrictions on travel outside the island will remain. First, Cubans will need a passport -- which is far from guaranteed in a country of endless bureaucracy and arbitrary detentions.

Second, Cubans will need a visa from the country they intend to visit. Despite its longstanding "wet foot, dry foot" policy that allows Cubans who make it to U.S. land to stay, the United States currently issues only 20,000 visas to Cubans every year.

Azel says he doesn't think that's going to change. That means another Mariel-like influx of Cuban immigrants wouldn't happen without a shift in American policy. 

"From the point of view of the United States, these changes don't mean that much," he says.

But mass emigration from Cuba is a distinct possibility, Azel says. Just not to the U.S. -- or not initially at least.

Cuban Baseball.jpg
Cubans will soon be able to escape Fidel more easily than in the past
"The pressure is going to be on other host countries in Latin America and elsewhere in the world," he says. "They are now going to have to make decision on how many visas to issue to Cubans. The likelihood is very very high that many of those Cubans who leave the island will not return. Brazil, Costa Rica, Argentina: will they issue visas knowing quite well that those people are going to remain in their country?"

The Granma article on the changes suggests that some restrictions could remain on Cuban intellectuals, as the government seeks to prevent so-called "brain drain."

It also remains to be seen how the U.S. will cope with the thousands of Cubans who could walk across the border after legally traveling to Mexico.

What is clear, Azel says, is that the changes are a win-win for the Cuban government.

"This is something that has irritated Cubans for the past 50 years," he says. "Now this change offers the Cuban government an escape valve for social unrest, it eliminates some mouths to feed that they don't have to worry about, and it gives them the [moral] high ground."

"The Cuban government can now say: 'No, we let them leave. It's up to you whether you let them in or not,'" Azel says.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes. Follow this journalist on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

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19 comments
Donna Betancourt
Donna Betancourt

Cubans still need visas to be able to travel to other countries, and that depends on their embassies and consulates. Is not like everybody is going to be able to leave the country in three months. Anyway, el ultimo que apague el morro!

tgonzalez4
tgonzalez4

Yes, but there is one small detail that is being overlooked: they still need to give you a passport or you can't leave. I'd like to see them let Yohani Sanchez leave the country and be allowed back in. Then, I'll believe there is a real change brewing.

Tony Miller
Tony Miller

Scarface was about due for a sequel.

Riselda Ruiz
Riselda Ruiz

It's a smart move by the regime to create a pressure valve of sorts. Now, those opposed can leave. Less pressure on the government while giving the world the appearance of democratic reform.

Silvia Barroso Lakey
Silvia Barroso Lakey

Love how it says " The likelihood is very very high that many of those Cubans who leave the island will not return" Um, duh, you think?

Frank Castle
Frank Castle

Great just what we need more cubans taking our jobs

Tom Blazejack
Tom Blazejack

Could be an attempt to get the blockade repealed because it creates a terrible irony. It seems that now the citizens of the brutal, fascist dictatorship can come here, but those of us born in the land of the free, who don't have relatives in Cuba, remain prohibited from going there.

Sergio F. Maldonado
Sergio F. Maldonado

Omg!! There goes the neighborhood!!! Se jodió la plusvalía del "Suh de la Florida"!!!

Alex Cue
Alex Cue

If you think this is really going to be another Mariel, I have some property in Florida I'd like to sell to you...for your Cuban relative that is.

Kenn Gambe
Kenn Gambe

cuba is not a prison anymore? what??

Mgp Bjj
Mgp Bjj

Why not, still a little bit of space in Jacksonville & Pensacola. Pack up los primos & abuelos en una lancha & go! lol

Phil Ramirez
Phil Ramirez

SE JODIO EL PLANETA... AHI VIENEN LOS "Y"!!!

MikeMillerMiami
MikeMillerMiami

 @tgonzalez4 Good point, but not overlooked: "Some restrictions on travel outside the island will remain. First, Cubans will need a passport -- which is far from guaranteed in a country of endless bureaucracy and arbitrary detentions."

And: "The Granma article on the changes suggests that some restrictions could remain on Cuban intellectuals, as the government seeks to prevent so-called 'brain drain.'"

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