Miami immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen said he has also noticed an increase in the number of recent Cuban arrivals, especially from Spain and Mexico, seeking his advice. From one or two cases a week, he said, he’s now seeing three or four per week.
Cuba’s migration reforms were clearly one of the most popular measures adopted by ruler Raúl Castro since he succeeded brother Fidel, most importantly removing the widely hated government exit permit known as the “white card.”
Castro also expanded from 11 to 24 months the time that Cubans can remain abroad without losing their residence — and benefits such as free healthcare. That means they can live in the United States for one year and one day, obtain U.S. residence, return to the island to preserve their residence there and be able to travel back and forth at will.
In another change, Cubans who left illegally, such as rafters and athletes and physicians who were previously labeled as “traitors” and banned from ever returning to the island, can now return if they have spent at least eight years abroad.
Havana’s migration changes are designed to allow the departure of “those most irritated by official policies” and bring in cash to support Raúl Castro’s economic reforms, former Cuban intelligence analyst Arturo López-Levy wrote in a recent Internet column.
“They are not meant to unleash a massive or uncontrolled emigration to relieve an urgent crisis,” added López-Levy, now a lecturer and doctoral candidate at the University of Denver.
Clapper told the Senate, in a brief reference to Cuba during testimony on global security issues, that no country was seeing a “significant” hike in Cuban travelers.
Yet there are anecdotal signs that a growing number of are Cubans traveling abroad.
In an island where personal travel abroad was rare before Jan. 14, Panama’s Copa Airline has advertised a sale on flights from Havana to Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Panamá, according to a dispatch by the AFP news agency.
Mexican government officials are taking bribes of up $10,000 to issue tourist visas to Cubans who don’t meet the tough requirements, such as having incomes of about $1,000 per month, one recent arrival in Miami said. Once in Mexico they head to Texas.
Eduardo Matias López, a Cuba-born immigration lawyer in Mexico City, said he has noticed that since Jan. 14 Mexican immigration officials have been sending back a growing number of Cubans who land in the nation’s airports — six and seven per flight.
López added that he believes the Cubans are being returned because of mistakes by the immigration officials, rather than the discovery of fraudulent or fraudulently obtained Mexican visas on the passports of the arriving Cubans.
Some Cubans also are reported to be flying to Haiti, which does not require visas of Cuban visitors. They then slip into the neighboring Dominican Republic in hopes of finding boats that will smuggle them east to Puerto Rico or west to Florida.
A Cuban migrant in Nigeria wrote an email to El Nuevo Herald last month asking how he could get to Mexico. He left the island in February because a Nigerian friend wangled him a tourist visa and a plane ticket, the man wrote.
“I have a good job here, and I have no relatives in Miami that I know of,” he wrote. “But for any Cuban, that is the promised land.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.