US to resume immigrant visa processing in Cuba’s capital after 4-year halt

Havana, Mar 3 (EFE).- The United States said Thursday it will soon resume the processing of immigrant visas at its embassy in Cuba on a limited basis, ending a four-year halt to that service.

A US State Department official informed reporters in Havana of that decision and said it was part of the “broader expansion of the Embassy’s functions to facilitate diplomatic and civil society engagement.”

The issuing of migrant visas on the Communist-ruled island is in keeping with Washington’s interest in ensuring that proper and legal migration procedures are being followed, that spokesperson said.

The move follows a rise in migratory flows from Cuba to the US over the past two years, although a US diplomat told Efe it was unrelated to that increase.

The announcement did not indicate precisely when immigrant visa processing would resume, how many diplomatic personnel would be transferred back to the US Embassy in Havana or how many people have applied for immigrant visas.

Despite the resumption of that service in the Cuban capital, the US diplomatic mission in Cuba said in a statement that the US Embassy in Guyana will continue to be the main center for processing Cuban immigrant visa applications.

The official said US-Cuba migration agreements remain in effect despite then-President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend them in 2017 – a move harshly criticized by Havana.

He also added that the goal is to completely resume all embassy services as soon as possible.

Figures from the US Customs and Border Protection indicate that 9,827 Cuban would-be migrants were detained in January, a nearly 13-fold increase from the same month of 2020.

Cubans also try to reach the US by making a perilous Straits of Florida crossing on makeshift rafts. Since the current fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2021, the Coast Guard has intercepted 730 Cubans at sea.

A total of 1,019 undocumented Cuban migrants were returned to the Caribbean island by US authorities in 2021, according to figures provided by Cuban official daily Granma.

Cuban authorities have not yet responded to Thursday’s announcement, but they have repeatedly blamed the US for the increase in irregular migratory flows and accused Washington of non-compliance with migration accords.

The director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s Division of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad, Ernesto Soberon, said in a recent press conference that when those agreements were being upheld in 2017 the US government had acknowledged a “drastic” reduction in irregular migratory flows.

He added that the US currently is not upholding its bilateral commitment to deliver 20,000 immigration visas annually to Cuban citizens.

The US’s move to impose strict limits on remittances and harsher economic sanctions on the Caribbean island during the Trump presidency has been partly responsible for driving illegal immigration, according to Soberon.

He said the suspension of visa processing over the past four years also has fueled outward migration.

The US reduced activity and staff at its embassy in Havana to a minimum in 2017 after nearly 30 of its diplomats suffered mysterious medical symptoms that became known as the “Havana syndrome.”

Trump said that year he believed the Cuban government was responsible for the health effects, but an initial CIA investigation – whose findings were released this January – ruled out the involvement of a foreign power.

Cuba has consistently denied having anything to do with those cases. EFE


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