A U.S. State Department delegation will hold migration talks with Cuban foreign-ministry officials Thursday in Havana, a department spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday.
Headed by Edward Alex Lee, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the delegation arrived in Havana on Tuesday and will meet with its Cuban counterpart on Thursday.
The talks are designed to discuss the implementation of bilateral migration accords reached in 1994 and 1995, following a Cuban government decision to allow more than 30,000 people to leave the island in flimsy rafts in 1994.
The accords require the two governments to work toward “safe, legal and orderly” migration. They also require Washington to issue at least 20,000 migrant visas to Cubans each year, as well as bilateral meetings that usually have been held twice a year.
The Bush administration suspended the talks in 2003, alleging they were making no headway on issues of U.S. interest. The Obama administration resumed them in July 2009 and they were held twice in 2010, in January 2011, and in July 2013.
The 2 ½-year gap between the 2011 and 2013 meetings was not a suspension and was unrelated to Cuba’s March 2011 conviction of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, according to the U.S. government.
Gross is serving a 15-year sentence in Havana for delivering communications equipment to Cuban Jews. The island’s government regards the devices as part of a Washington campaign to topple the communist system.
Obama administration officials have said the talks do not represent a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba and are consistent with Washington’s efforts to ensure safe migration between the two nations.
Nearly 25,000 Cuban migrants received U.S. visas in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to 26,720 in fiscal year 2012, according to U.S. government figures. Nearly 30,000 others received visitor visas during the same period, compared to 14,362 in fiscal year 2012.