Last Tuesday, October 16, 2012, Cuban President Raúl Castro announced that effective January 14, 2013 its residents would no longer need to apply for exit visas in order to travel abroad. Cuban citizens facing criminal charges and others deemed by the government to be of national security risks will likely not benefit from this recent policy change. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if certain professions, scientists and doctors for example, would have their travel restrictions loosened for fear of a “brain drain.” Notwithstanding the changes in immigration policy, Cuban citizens would still need to apply for a passport and obtain visas for their destination countries. Questions still loom high on how this policy change could or would affect U.S. immigration policies as they relate to Cuba. U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland indicated
Our own visa requirements remain unchanged. We obviously welcome any reforms that'll allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely. We remain committed to the migration accords under which our two countries support and promote safe, legal and orderly migration.
Based on many years of practice in Miami, Ms. Linda Osberg-Braun, a Florida Bar Certified Attorney in Immigration and Nationality Law and Partner at Bernstein, Osberg-Braun, Caco & Solow felt the recent policy change might be the result of Cuba’s need to generate revenue.
Castro's new decree surely has a hidden agenda that will benefit him and is a signal that he needs an infusion of U.S. funds. The true impact will not be known right away but clearly the Cuban government will maintain control of this process releasing only those the government wants to release.
While the policy may only benefit a select group of Cubans come 2013, Ms. Osberg-Braun indicates immigration of Cubans to the U.S., be it large or small, would ultimately benefit the U.S. The migration could “help our economy, our growth and the unification of Cuban-American families.” Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuban immigrants are provided a separate, fast-track procedure in which to emigrate to the U.S. that is not available to foreign nationals of other countries. Short of major political transformation in Cuba, it may well be that the U.S. government remains steadfast in its commitment to this law. From practical experience, Ms. Osberg-Braun summarizes this immigration process:
Practitioners can file I-485 applications for Cuban nationals and spouses and minor (under 21) children of Cuban nationals after they have been admitted and inspected and/or paroled into the United States and have been here for one year and one day. Therefore, Cuban nationals still need a visa or travel document to enter the United States. Those who make it to our shores remain free to file for asylum and/or all protection that our laws provide.
In the meantime, what, if any, impact might this have on U.S. immigration practitioners, especially in areas heavily populated with Cuban immigrants? Immigration policies will continue to evolve as our economy and political landscape shift. Particularly in light of DACA and foreign policy changes like Cuba’s recent announcement, practitioners who have set up their practices to allow them to scale up quickly and efficiently are in the best position to service the community, if and went the time calls for it.
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