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Dramatic Changes in Travel Policy for Cuban Citizens

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The Cuban government has lifted travel restrictions for its citizens. Yes, you’re reading that correctly…the Cuban government.

Reuters reports that the announcement was made official today in the Cuban state newspaper, Granma. “The government now is set to lift requirements to obtain an exit visa permitting departure from Cuba and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country. Instead, starting on January 14, Cubans will simply have to show a passport and, if needed, a visa from the country to which they are traveling, Communist Party newspaper Granma said.”

Starting in January 2013, Cubans will simply need to present a valid passport and visit the embassy of the country to which they wish to travel and obtain a visa from that embassy if it is required by that country. The changes will also extend the amount of time that Cubans can be out of the country from 11 months to 24 months without losing their citizen and property rights. In addition, a new policy of applying for an extension of time abroad will be implemented.

This is big news. Restrictions were initially implemented in 1961 to prevent mass migrations of Cubans fleeing the island after the revolution in 1959. The process to obtain an exit visa was expensive and often times unreasonably lengthy. Even after many Cubans struggled through the process, they would be denied the exit visa in the end. This travel limitation has been one of the primary reasons to justify the limitations of freedom in Cuba and maintain the status quo in regards to U.S. policy towards Cuba.

While there will still be some of the same limitations on medical personnel and other professions in order to prevent the brain drain of a highly needed workforce, these changes respond to the number one demand of the majority of the Cuban population, the right to freely leave and return to Cuba.

However, let’s not get too carried away by the optimism in the air. Like any type of reform, we will have to wait and see how these changes are implemented. For now, we can certainly applaud the efforts of the Cuban government to address the needs of their people and strongly urge our government to do the same.

To read the official release in Granma click here.