From the beginning of 2023, Cubans will no longer have to travel to third countries to apply for a US visa – Copyright AFP SAUL LOEB
The U.S. Embassy in Cuba said Wednesday it will resume “full immigrant visa processing” next year for the first time since 2017, when the mission was closed due to alleged sonic attacks on diplomatic personnel.
The announcement comes at a time when Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented exodus of undocumented migrants amid the communist country’s worst economic crisis in 30 years due to tightening US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
“This change…will eliminate the need for Cubans applying for immigrant visas in the family preference categories to travel outside of Cuba to Georgetown, Guyana, for an interview,” the embassy said in a statement.
The United States evacuated its diplomatic staff and their families in 2017 after at least two dozen people suffered traumatic brain injuries that resembled concussions but showed no outward signs of injury.
U.S. officials accused Cuba of carrying out “health attacks” using some sort of acoustic or microwave device, but the accusation was angrily denied by Havana.
A 2020 US government report states that illnesses suffered by employees and their families were most likely caused by “directed pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy.”
The closure of the embassy made obtaining a visa an expensive nightmare for Cubans, who now had to travel to a third country at their own expense to apply.
Many aspired to reach the shores of the United States even without a visa, many tried their luck without travel documents on long and dangerous journeys by sea or by road through Central America.
Over the past 11 months, a record 198,000 Cubans have entered the US illegally, according to the US Border Police.
The US Embassy resumed limited visa services in Havana in May, but announced a “full reopening” from early 2023, helped by an increase in embassy staff.
Under existing immigration agreements, the United States must issue at least 20,000 immigrant visas per year to Cubans.
However, these agreements were put on hold in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, whose administration also refused to meet with the Cuban government.
The annual migration talks between Havana and Washington resumed earlier this year.