Cuba Eases Exit Visa Rules; US Requirement Remains

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

HAVANA -- Cubans on the streets of Havana are expressing delight and astonishment over the government's decision to end its exit visa requirement.

For the first time in more than a half-century, Cubans who want to travel overseas will only need to show a passport and a visa from the country they want to visit -- and won't have to get Cuban government approval to leave.

It's the most significant advance this year in President Raul Castro's five-year plan of reforms. The plan has already seen the legalization of home and car sales, and a big increase in the number of Cubans owning private businesses.

Despite the change, there are still limits on travel by many Cubans. People can't get a passport or travel abroad without permission if they face criminal charges, if the trip affects national security or if the departure would affect efforts to keep qualified labor in Cuba.

One retiree in Havana said the change is "great" news. He said, "Citizens' rights are being restored."

But one prominent U.S. critic of the Cuban government -- Cuban-born congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida -- says Castro is trying to "fool the world into thinking that Cuba is changing."

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WASHINGTON -- Even though Cuba's government will no longer require Cubans to get an exit visa in order to leave the country, Cubans still won't be able to just get on a plane to the United States.

An immigration lawyer points out that Cubans still need to get a visa issued by the State Department in order to travel to the United States. Homeland Security officials who review passenger lists for U.S.-bound flights are likely to order an airline to deny boarding to anyone who doesn't have that permission.

A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, says U.S. visa requirements "remain unchanged." But she says the U.S. welcomes any reforms that will let Cubans leave their own country and return there freely.

Under 1994 accords between the two countries, the U.S. has encouraged Cuba to take steps to prevent any mass exodus.

Cubans who do make it to the United States, regardless of whether or not they have a visa, are generally admitted.


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