Thursday, May 3, 2007

New Cuban travel regs

New Cuban regulations took effect yesterday affecting Cuban citizens’ travel abroad to visit relatives or friends.

To wade into this issue is to become familiar with the maze of government requirements facing Cubans who wish to travel abroad: letters of invitation, exit permits, notarized documents, and more, with every step of the process – including purchase of a Cuban passport and renewal of the passport every two years – carrying a charge payable in hard currency. Travel is not a matter of right, and it is expensive.

The new regulations, however, deal with none of the big issues; they change one small part of the bureaucratic process.

As part of an application for an exit permit to go abroad to visit friends or family, a Cuban citizens needs to present a letter of invitation, and that letter must be certified as authentic.

Before, a Cuban seeking to visit, for example, an uncle in Caracas could present a fax of the uncle’s invitation to a law office in Cuba and have it certified. Now, under the new regulations, the invitation must be certified at the Cuban consulate in Caracas.

The new regulations do not affect Cuban Americans, because under current procedures they already have their letters certified by the Cuban consulate in Washington when they invite their relatives for a visit. Cuba is seeking to make this process the norm.

The only official Cuban explanation for this move is the dry legal language of the regulations themselves. As a result, the intent is not clear. If the intent is to reduce travel or increase collection of consular fees, the impact will likely be marginal.

The main difference is that those inviting Cubans to travel overseas can no longer simply fax an invitation to Cuba; they will have to present it to the local Cuban consulate and may have to answer questions. Cuban officials gain a greater degree of scrutiny over those issuing the invitations. This is probably not good news for the Mexican men whose cottage industry of expensive marriages of convenience has provided a route to emigration for many Cuban women.

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