US & Cuba


Historic tensions between the US and Cuba have made travel between the two countries problematic. It’s not going to get any easier either. The new president-elect, Donald Trump is no fan of their communist regime. But with Fidel Castro’s death at the end of November, there may be some change in attitude.

Many exiled Cubans in the States will perhaps be closer to the dream of returning home. In parts of Miami people have been celebrating. Some of the families there have lived outside their home land for decades but have not lost hope. Castro’s death won’t have an immediate effect with regards to their freedom and rights but it is significant.

Against this news, it is timely to look at the process should a Cuban national want to visit the United States. In recent years there has been a softening in attitudes but it remains controversial. Cuban officials have generally had visa applications rejected but Obama has been more sympathetic. For instance, in 2012 they granted Castro’s daughter a visa, causing some outrage.

The US runs a visa waiver scheme which is available to nationals from a list of selected countries. If you don’t have a visa for entry, but you’re from certain parts of Europe or Australasia, you can apply for ESTA online approval. Cuba is not on that list and despite legislation softening, people will find it hard to get approval. In October 2016 new regulations made changes to ease US-Cuba travel restrictions.  US immigration now says that Cubans are eligible for most standard US visas. But this isn’t reciprocated by the Cuban government.

When you look at how many visa applications the US government rejects, it explains why Cuba has such a problem with reciprocation. In 2008 45.2% were rejected, followed by 66.2% in 2014, with a jump to 76.03% in 2015. People may be eligible but they are being rejected and it’s a massive increase in a relatively short period. The reason for this high rejection rate is the ability – or lack thereof – to prove intent. The prospective traveller has to reassure immigration that they will leave the US when they say they will. This is why they need information about the applicant’s personal circumstances and reasons for travel.

This discriminates against younger applicants. The fear is that once these young people are on American soil, they will deploy the ‘wet feet, dry feet’ argument to stay. The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) says that Cubans who reach US shores can apply for permanent residence. And given that most people are successful, immigration officials are keen to ensure this method isn’t used.

As we have seen across the globe, immigration remains subject to political whim. Despite Obama’s liberal stance, Cuban visa rejections rose. The death of the Cuban revolutionary figurehead may help the country further their trade interests with neighbouring states. But trade requires travel and this will require further easing of US visa requirements. However, although President-Elect Trump cannot be predicted, his attitude to immigration is well established. We can only hope for the best for people wanting to travel.