US to resume granting 20,000 visas to Cubans each year | International


Senior Cuban and U.S. officials met this week in Havana on migration issues, as a first step toward reopening U.S. consular services on the island.

The Trump administration suspended these services five years ago, while limiting Cuban immigration from 2017 to 2021. Under existing immigration agreements, Washington must grant at least 20,000 visas to Cuban immigrants each year. However, according to Cuban authorities, for the entire Trump administration and for the first half of the Biden administration, only an average of 4,000 visas were granted each year.

Rena Bitter – assistant secretary of state for consular affairs – and Ur Mendoza Jaddou – director of citizenship and immigration services at the Department of Homeland Security – are the two most senior US officials to visit Cuba since the start of his term of President Joe Biden. It is no coincidence that they made the trip in the midst of the migration crisis in the Americas.

During the past fiscal year, approximately 224,000 Cubans entered the United States illegally through the Mexican border. Another 6,000 were intercepted by the US Coast Guard as they attempted to reach US soil via raft. In September of this year, Cuba and the United States held what was described as a “technical meeting” in Havana between Cuban border guard officials and the United States Coast Guard Service to “increase bilateral cooperation ” in the fight against irregular immigration.

Assistant Secretary Bitter and Director Mendoza were received on November 10 by a Cuban delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío, who, according to an official statement, “reiterated the importance of the full recovery migration and consular services”. services at the United States Embassy in Havana, including nonimmigrant visa processing.

The U.S. Embassy said Washington would resume “full processing of immigrant visas beginning January 4, 2023.” Family reunification will be a priority, while the embassy will “expand consular services” and increase its staff “if conditions permit”.

In a press release, the embassy noted that during the talks, Assistant Secretary Bitter “expressed concern to Cuban officials about the human rights situation and urged the government to unconditionally release all prisoners.” policies”. Cuba, for its part, stressed that the US embargo must be lifted. The regime claims that it is the main cause of the deterioration of living conditions in Cuba and that it is a trigger for irregular emigration.

In 2017, under former President Donald Trump, the US Embassy reduced its staff to a minimum, citing mysterious “sound attacks” directed at its diplomats – something Havana has always denied. Scientific research conducted by the United States has not been conclusive. According to the Cuban government, the so-called “sound attacks” were just a pretext to dismantle the embassy as part of a “political operation aimed at reversing progress in relations between Cuba and the United States under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Since then, consular operations have been virtually paralyzed. Cubans wishing to emigrate had to travel to Guyana to take the necessary steps to legally enter the United States.

During Trump’s tenure (2017-2021), the United States tightened the embargo policy and placed the island on a list of state sponsors of terrorism. This has resulted in lower imports, drastic cuts in American tourism and cruise ships, and the end of Cuban-Americans’ ability to send remittances to loved ones. All of this has stifled Cuba’s already fragile state-controlled economy.

During the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, Biden advocated a return to Obama’s policy of “constructive engagement” with Havana. Yet, from the moment he took office, he was very cautious in his relations with Cuba, lest he provoke an outcry from Republicans, Cuban-Americans and many Venezuelan immigrants, who were driven out of their country by politics. of a Cuban-backed regime. Since 2021, it has eased only part of the sanctions – on remittances, flights and certain types of travel – although the dialogue between the two countries has advanced at a snail’s pace.

However, formal talks on immigration issues – suspended by Trump – resumed in 2022. The final meetings were held in Washington, D.C. in April, followed by US Coast Guard officials who traveled to Havana in September. There were also bilateral contacts on collaboration to prevent fuel spills that could impact the territorial waters of both countries.

For the first time, after the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian in September 2022, the Cuban regime accepted humanitarian aid worth $2 million from USAID – the United States Agency for International Development – that the Communist Party of Havana has always been accused of fomenting subversion on the island. Before that, during the summer fires, the United States sent uniforms and equipment to Cuban firefighters. Now, in the midst of an unprecedented migration crisis – which has already surpassed the Cuban exodus in the 1980s and 1990s – the two countries are meeting to see what else they can find common ground on.


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