Cubans Set To Travel, Now Free To Come And Go

cubans

Starting today, travel for Cubans is a whole new ballgame, mainly because they no longer need an exit visa to leave the island nation. That might not sound like much to get excited about but for Cubans, that exit visa was seen as a major obstacle for those who wanted to travel in the past.

In the past, U.S./Cuban relations have made leaving Cuba difficult for its citizens. To get off the island, travelers had to get a letter of invitation from the person they wanted to visit, pay a $200 fee and get permission to be away from work.

“As far as I know, Cuba is the only country with these rules. They shouldn’t exist,” argued Yenier Prado, who had to wait four months to get his exit permit in a BBC report.

Now, Cuban travelers with a valid passport can stay away for two years instead of 11 months and extend that time further, skipping the fees and permission/invitation to travel. Better yet, Cubans who left illegally over eight years ago will be able to return to Cuba, no questions asked.
The idea is that by making it easier to travel, more Cubans will work and study abroad then come back to Cuba with their new skills and money.

As a developing nation, Cubans will still need visas to visit most places around the planet. The United States issues about 20,000 immigrant visas for Cubans each year. Still, this marks a great step in the right direction.

Over the years, many Cubans tried getting to the United States via homemade rafts and were often picked up by cruise ships in the area, only to be eventually returned to Cuba. That’s because of what is referred to as the Wet Foot/Dry Foot rule, which allows those who make it to the shores of the United States to stay while those intercepted are returned, as we see in this recent video:



[Photo Credit- Flickr User flippinyank]

Travel To Cuba Easier, For Cubans

travel to cuba

Travel to and from Cuba took a progressive turn this week as restrictions dating back a half-century were lifted for Cubans, allowing them to leave the island without going through a time-consuming process. It’s good news for Cubans longing to travel freely in and out of their country and a step in the right direction for Americans, dreaming of a visit to Cuba.

Starting in January, Cubans will no longer need an exit visa permitting departure and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country. Those restrictions were imposed in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution that occurred between 1953 and 1959, placing Fidel Castro in power. Now, most Cubans will only need their passports, national identity cards and a visa (if needed) from the country they will visit.It’s a move viewed as a next step to allowing free travel to and from Cuba for Americans eager to visit the island. Right now, travel is restricted via the U.S. government’s 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act. Under that act, the restriction is not on travel but on the spending of money in Cuba.

travel to cubaThat act effectively equates to a travel ban because under normal circumstances a visitor would spend on accommodations, food and other necessities.

“Like earlier decisions legalizing the personal sales of homes and cars, this is another step in the direction of loosening restrictions and opening up Cuban society,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington group opposed to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, in a Reuters report.

Back in April 2011, Gadling reported on new guidelines that allowed journalists plus religious and educational groups to travel to Cuba just about whenever they wanted to. Those rules also allowed Americans to send up to $2,000 annually to Cuba, limited to $500 per quarter (up from $300). Progress is being made.

Still, to get to Cuba, Americans must look to an exception to the rule on spending money in Cuba, allowed by licenses issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department.

Want to go to Cuba?

Cuba Travel Services, Cubalinda and a few other travel agencies specialize in travel to and from Cuba, operate direct flights between the United States and Cuba and can assist licensed travelers with all their travel accommodations.




[Photo Credit: Flickr user Ed Yourdon]

Rescue By Cruise Ship Not A Happy Event

We might think that being rescued by a cruise ship, after floating in the ocean for days or weeks, would be a good thing. Cuban refugees, commonly found on or close to routes traveled by cruise ships, are brought aboard to be cared for. Cheering passengers feel good about it all but for the refugees, a hot meal on a cruise ship is about the last thing in the world they want.

It’s called the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy that allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil on their own to take a fast track to permanent residency. But if they get picked up by a helpful cruise ship, they most likely go back to Cuba.

“The cruise line usually takes them on the ship, calls the U.S. Coast Guard who sails out to the scene, and the Coast Guard processes the refugees and sails them back to Cuba where they end up in Castro’s jails,” says maritime attorney James Walker on his CruiseLawNews website.

Friday night, some floating refugees apparently knew all about the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy, refusing to be rescued by Royal Caribbean’s giant Oasis of the Seas. On board was our friend @NomadicMatt who tweeted, “Our cruise ship just stopped to help rescue Cuban refugees in raft that was stranded at sea.”But it did not take long for refugees to take on food and water then continue on their way, trying to leave before the U.S. Coast Guard arrived.

“There is a lot of yelling on the raft and at times they look like they are trying to get away as they know the coast guard was called,” tweeted @NomadicMatt.

Odds are, the Coast Guard found the refugees, picked them up and will send them back to Cuba. But in the cover of night, they might have eluded authorities and made it to shore on their own.

“Let’s hope the winds and currents and the grace of God bring the refugees ashore tonight and they plant their feet on U.S. soil and can begin free lives here in America,” concluded Walker.

[Flickr photo by TarikB]


Cubans Rescued from Adrift Raft