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Changes Coming To Cuban Migration Policies

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Earlier this week the Cuban government announced it would make travel in and out of the country easier.  But experts say the changes won’t make much of a difference to most Cuban citizens.

Guarioné Diaz, President Emeritus of the Cuban-American National Council, said while the Cuban government has make changes to their immigration policies, those changes are essentially just skin deep.

“It eliminates one bureaucratic layer of the processing of visas to leave the country, but it retains the authority to leave or not to leave in the hands of the government, and more specifically in under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, which just so you know in Cuba the Ministry of the Interior its a security, a police security,” said Diaz.

This new process doesn’t just let anyone leave, though.  According to Cuba’s state newspaper La Granma, those who are deemed important to the country, such as doctors and engineers, will still not be allowed to emigrate.  The shift also allows foreigners in Cuba to stay longer in the country up from six months to 2 years. Cuban Americans will now be allowed to return to live on the island, with the stipulation that they stay out of Cuban politics and government dissent. Diaz said although changes are being made in Cuba, US policies aren’t expected to differ from the past.

“I don’t think that the United States are going to change much of their processing of visas in the Cuban Interest Section in Havana, I think the process will basically be the same.”

About 67 percent of all Cubans in the United States live in Florida, and that number, Diaz says, will continue to rise as a result of the recent legislation.

Some of those Cubans come legally, some don’t.  Alfonso Yearwood arrived on a wooden raft on the beaches of Jacksonville January 14th of this year after an eight day voyage with 12 other people.  He says coming on a raft is a heavy decision.

“Its not like we have other options, it’s about the possibilities that you have in front of you, we’re talking about desperation here, and they’re not the kind of boats that you see here in this country, they’re old fragile Cuban boats made out of wood,” said Yearwood.

Sometimes the legal way to get in to the country isn’t easy either, like twenty one year old Jessica Chavez of Miami had to go through. She arrived in the United States on August 3rd of this year. After six hundred U.S. dollars and over two years of interviewing and applications she says it was a rough process at times, considering the average monthly wage for Cuba is 20 US dollars.

“The hardest part was when I went to the immigration office in Cuba, they didn’t let me leave, they didn’t even tell me why, I had to go to a lot of different places, they asked me for a lot of paper work and documents to prove my father lived in the US, and they told me that those files could have been fake and that they didn’t accept them,” Chavez said.

Per a US Cuban agreement, no less than twenty thousand Cubans are legally admitted in to the United States per year. The 1996 Cuban Adjustment Act allows Cubans who make it to sovereign American soil to be paroled in to the United States for one year, before granting residency and eventually citizenship.

The new Cuban migration policies are expected to go in to effect on January 14th of 2013.