08 August 2006

US may relax immigration rules for Cubans

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The United States are considering relaxing immigration rules for a limited numbers of Cubans with the aim of reuniting families who still have relatives in America.

Aside from recent political changes inside Cuba, the policy shift is intended to discourage mass migration from Cuba and clamp down on the illegal trade in people smuggling and discourage Cubans from attempting the risky journey to Florida by boat or raft.

Currently, under the "wet foot/dry foot" policy, most Cubans who reach American soil are allowed to remain, but those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba - or taken to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay for asylum interviews if necessary — but do not face any penalties if they apply for visas.

The policy changes would cancel or reject visa applications from those people who attempt to enter the country illegally.

Some 22,000 Cubans are currently waiting for visas to enter America, and those who have family members in the U.S. would get priority under the policy being considered. Doctors would also benefit from the relaxed rules.

An estimated 125,000 Cubans arrived in the United States on April 1980, another 40,000 more followed in August 1994 and currently less than 1,000 Cubans now make the sea voyage successfully.

Part of the draft legislation seen by the Associated Press, aims to aims to reunited families by allowing U.S. residents to apply for expedited parole - legal entry into the country - for close relatives in Cuba.

This would speed the immigration process for an estimated 10,000 Cubans who are waiting for U.S. visas to join families in the United States.

Cuban doctors who are working outside Cuba, and their families, would be eligible to emigrate to America after undergoing background security checks. The Cuban government currently allows some doctors to leave the country to work in developing nations.

The document also reveals plans to refuse entry to Cuban government officials who are suspected of having engaged in human rights abuses, and intentions to expel those officials who may already be in the country.

The move to relax immigration rules comes weeks after ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro relinquished power to his younger brother Raul whilst the recovers from an operation.

President Bush said Monday, "We would hope that — and we'll make this very clear — that as Cuba has the possibility of transforming itself from a tyrannical situation to a different type of society, the Cuban people ought to decide."


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