Visa and consular assistance are once again being provided by the US Embassy in Cuba as of yesterday. For the first time since a series of unexplained health incidents involving diplomats in 2017, the US presence in Havana was decreased.
The Embassy said this week that it will begin processing immigrant visas, giving preference to papers enabling Cubans to communicate with family members currently living in the US as well as other things like the diversity visa lottery.
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The resumption comes as Cuba is going through its worst migrant exodus in decades, which puts pressure on the Biden administration to open more legal doors for Cubans and start communicating with the Cuban government despite a historically tense relationship.
Because of the large number of individuals who want to immigrate to the land of opportunity, the total of 20,000 visas issued each year may not be enough to accommodate the majority. This is being driven by the island’s mounting economic and political problems.
The number of Cubans stopped by US officials at the Mexico border in November was 34,675, up 21% from 28,848 in October, according to reports made in late December.
That number has progressively climbed from month to month. According to US Customs and Border Protection data, Cubans have overtaken Mexicans as the second most common nationality crossing the border.
A wide range of causes, including difficulties in the economy, energy, and politics as well as widespread unhappiness among Cubans, are to blame for the increased migration.
While majority of Cuban migrants fly to Nicaragua and pass by land at the US-Mexico border, many more have braved the perilous journey by water. They trek 90 miles to the Florida shore, often in decrepit, poorly built boats crowded with migrants.
The flight from Cuba is exacerbated by increased migration to the United States from other nations such as Haiti and Venezuela, compelling the US government to deal with a growingly difficult situation on its southern border.
The resumption of visa work at the embassy follows a number of migration conversations and visits to Havana by US officials in recent months, and it may also be a sign of a progressive warming between the two countries.
In a statement issued by the US Embassy in November following a visit to Cuba by an American delegation it was noted, “participating in these conversations demonstrates our commitment to pursuing constructive dialogue with the government of Cuba where appropriate to advance US interests.”
The tiny moves are a far cry from the state of affairs under President Barack Obama, who during his administration loosened several American Cold War-era restrictions and paid a historic visit to the island in 2016.
Visa and consular services were suspended on the island in 2017 when embassy workers became ill as a result of a series of health events, allegedly caused by sonic assaults that remains relatively unsolved.
Because of this, a lot of Cubans who wished to legally immigrate to the US had to fly to countries like Guyana first, then immigrate or reunite with relatives.
While ties between Cuba and the United States have long been strained, they were heightened by the embassy closure and the Trump administration’s strengthening of sanctions against Cuba.
President Joe Biden has loosened certain limitations on items like remittances and family visits from Miami to Cuba, but has fallen short of many Cubans’ hopes that a Biden president would return the island to its “Obama era.”
Tourist travel to Cuba, as well as imports and exports of numerous items, are still restricted.
The Cuban government’s brutal handling of participants in the island’s 2021 demonstrations, including hefty prison terms meted out to juveniles, has also fueled tensions, and has been a continual source of criticism for the Biden administration.
Officials in Cuba have regularly voiced confidence regarding negotiations with the United States and moves to resume visa services. In November, Cuban Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Cossio stated that ensuring migration through safe and legal channels is a “mutual objective” of both nations.
However, Cossio blamed the departure of tens of thousands from the island on US sanctions, stating that, “there’s no doubt that a policy meant to depress the living standards of a population is a direct driver of migration.”