Colombia's consulates in Miami and Havana have been jammed in recent weeks by Cubans seeking to travel to Bogota to process visa requests at the U.S. Embassy there.
“We are seeing a much higher number of people than normal every day,” said a Colombian consulate official in Miami. “They usually arrive without an appointment and ask for quick service. We are in a difficult situation.”
Cubans who live in the United States but are not U.S. citizens are required to obtain an appointment at a Colombian consulate to submit required documents, such as photocopies of the main page of their Cuban passports and expiration dates, their proof of U.S. residence (Green Cards) and flight reservations to and from Colombia.
Consular officials also want to see the hotel reservations in Colombia and the last six months of the applicants' bank accounts, which must have a minimum balance of $700.
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The application costs $52, and the visa costs another $82, if approved.
“We don't understand why so many Cubans want to travel to Colombia, because it's their relatives on the island who have to do that for their immigration process at the U.S. embassy” in Bogota, said the consular official, who did not want to be identified because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter.
Miami resident José Miguel Ramos, one of the many Cubans who went to the Colombian Consulate, located in Coral Gables, said he needs to travel to Bogota to help with the U.S. visa applications for his wife and five-year-old son.
“My family has never been out of Cuba. I need to travel to meet up with them and help them during the process,” he said. “They will need medical exams and paperwork in Colombia, and they will need help for sure.”
The native of Pinar del Río in western Cuba said his treatment at the Miami consulate has been “excellent,” but other Cubans reported different experiences.
“Several people spent the whole day last week waiting to speak with someone, and never did,” said Maria, 54, who declined to give her last name. She complained that she waited for more than three hours.
“It's an abuse that we have to pay for Colombian visas even though we live in the United States,” she added. “It's not our fault that the Americans withdrew their people” from the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Maria’s son in Cuba has an appointment with the U.S. embassy in Bogota on Jan. 23, but the Colombian consulate in Miami offered her an appointment for the end of January.
“There's a lack of coordination,” she said.
Consulate officials said Colombia has nothing to do with the U.S. decision to shift almost all visa processing from Havana to Bogota.
“It's not our fault that this is happening,” one official said. “We are trying to help as many people as possible, but always based on respect and communication.
“The Colombian consulate in Miami is not obliged to issue visas to Cubans who want to reunite with their families in Bogota,” the official added. “There is a process and requirements to obtain visas that must be respected.”
The U.S. government withdrew more than half the diplomats from its embassy in Havana in September and canceled most immigration processing there because of alleged attacks American against diplomats. Washington has blamed Havana for failure to protect diplomats on Cuban soil.
The State Department later announced it would process Cubans' applications for immigrant visas only at its embassy in Bogota, and non-immigrant visas could be requested at any U.S. embassy.
The Family Reunification Program for Cubans has been suspended for several months.
The onslaught of Cubans applying for Colombian visas has also hit the Colombian consulate in Havana. Last week, hundreds of Cubans who had U.S. visa interview appointments in Havana from September to December of 2017 were notified of upcoming interviews in Bogota.
“It's very difficult to coordinate the interviews at the U.S. and Colombian embassies,” Havana resident Félix González said in a telephone interview.
González added that it's also “extraordinarily difficult” to apply for a Colombian visa in Havana.
“They ask us to upload all the documents to the web page of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that takes a lot of work here,” he said.
Cubans on the island also must show they have kept at least $2,000 in bank accounts over the past six months to obtain Colombian visas.
Follow Mario J. Penton on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba