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Number of Cubans leaving homeland the highest since 1994

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The number of Cubans leaving their country has reached its highest point in 19 years. The year that saw this many Cubans leaving, usually for the United States was in 1994 when refugees braved the ocean in makeshift rafts and leaking boats. In response, the U.S. State Department announced it is lengthening most visitor visas for Cubans from six months to five years. This will allow Cubans to make multiple U.S. visits over the five-year period instead of repeatedly applying and paying the $160 fee.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Cuba liberalized travel restrictions last January, making it less expensive for residents to travel and to return after they emigrate. Cold war traditions such as the confiscation of property of migrants have since been abandoned.

The new travel measures extend to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can be out of the country without losing rights. They can seek an extension of up to 24 months more.

The changes on both sides of the Florida Straits should in theory make it easier for Cubans not only to travel but to work in the U.S. and return to Cuba at will.

According to Cuba's annual demographic report for 2012, 46,662 Cubans migrated permanently last year, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the "Rafter Crisis."

Cubans have been emigrating at an average annual rate of more than 39,000 over the past five years. This rate is higher than in any other five-year period since the earliest years of the revolution.

Its troubling news for a new government which faces a demographic crisis similar to some developed countries where fewer young people must support a growing elderly population.

While the report did not break down migration by age, it's a given that many leaving the country are young and educated. A large proportion eventually wind up in the U.S. 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.

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