Cuba: No More Exit Visas!

by Mark Nestmann The Nestmann Group, Ltd.

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One of my favorite countries in the Caribbean is the Republic of Cuba. Earlier this month, I visited Cuba once again and found more positive changes underway.

On October 14, the Official Gazette announced a change in migratory regulations. Effective Jan. 14, 2013, the government will finally eliminate the exit visa, long an irritant and object of anger and frustration. Cubans wishing to travel abroad no longer will require a “Letter of Invitation,” nor submit to background checks and approvals and pay a high application fee.

Naturally, there are exceptions. The Gazette speaks of protecting the “human capital” of the Revolution. This likely means that the government may restrict the right of highly-educated professionals (e.g., physicians) to travel abroad. In addition, the government retains the right to restrict issuance of passports. Further, various government ministries will present a list of individuals who won’t have the right to travel abroad.

Of course, these restrictions aren’t so different from those the United States already has in place to restrict or repudiate passports. U.S. citizens can have their passports cancelled or non-renewed for offenses ranging from failing to make child support to being declared an “enemy of the state.”

Most Cubans I spoke to are happy about the end of the exit visa. The chief of immigration announced on television that the orders that came from above were to facilitate quickly all applications for passports. However, more sophisticated Cubans understand there are some less desirable implications as well. For instance, they believe – and I agree – that foreign embassies will “tighten up” on the issuance of entry visas for Cuban nationals.

Take, for instance, the USA. If Cubans can now leave their country freely, what will become of the Cuban Adjustment Act, that was signed during the Johnson Administration? This law gives any Cuban citizen admitted into the United States after January 1, 1959 and physically present for at least one year, to be admissible to the United States as a permanent resident. Unless the United States is prepared for a big influx of new Cuban residents, it will need to amend this law.

As a citizen of the Commonwealth of Dominica, I can visit Cuba anytime without restrictions. This is in marked contrast to U.S. citizens, who must obtain a “license” from the U.S. Treasury to spend money in Cuba. These restrictions are part of the longstanding U.S. embargo of Cuba, originally placed in force more than 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy.

Ironically, after Jan. 14, 2013, Cuban citizens will be more free and less regulated by their government to visit the USA than U.S. citizens will be to visit Cuba. I’ve often said that Cuba and the United States are moving toward each other, but in different directions. The latest initiative from Cuba proves my point!