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  1. Florida Politics

Visas issued to Cubans plummet with slashing of staff at U.S. embassy in Havana

Tourists ride classic convertible cars on the Malecon beside the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. Only a fraction of visa requests from Cubans are handled at the embassy now that the process has been shifted off the island, so the number issued has plummeted. [AP]
Tourists ride classic convertible cars on the Malecon beside the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. Only a fraction of visa requests from Cubans are handled at the embassy now that the process has been shifted off the island, so the number issued has plummeted. [AP]
Published Jan. 1, 2018

Cubans seeking visas to the United States are having a harder time under the new system than in the past, though they may be adjusting.

Over the past two years, more than 800 immigrant visas have been issued each month to Cubans so they can move permanently to the United States.

That number dropped to 16 in October, according to statistics on the U.S. State Department's website. The total rose to 196 in November, but is still well below the former monthly average.

The reason: Staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana was slashed by 60 percent in response to mysterious health attacks on American diplomats there and the State Department announced it would suspend processing visa requests there.

Now, to apply for an immigrant visa, Cuban citizens must travel to the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, a tall order for most people in a country where the average citizen makes $25 a month.

Of the 16 Cubans issued immigrant visas in October, only 11 made the trip to Bogotá. Still, in November, that number increased to 172.

The remaining 29 for those two months were issued visas from Havana.

Those from October were interviewed before the staff cutbacks, the State Department told the Tampa Bay Times. The November numbers were released after that statement was issued, and the Times could not confirm if those visas were provided from Havana for the same reason.

Non-immigrant visas for visits to the United States that allow for cultural or scientific exchanges, sports or tourism also dipped dramatically, from nearly 2,000 in July and August to just 376 in October and 370 in November. The embassy in Havana issued 93 and 97 of the visas per month, respectively.

Most non-immigrant visas provided from Havana were governmental or diplomatic visas, which will continue to be issued from Cuba's capital city.

Non-immigrant visas also can be obtained in person at U.S. embassies in any third country, not just Colombia. Many Cuban nationals applying for these visas may already be living abroad, the State Department noted.

September, when Hurricane Irma hit Havana and Florida, also showed lower-than-normal totals of Cubans receiving immigrant and non-immigrant visas to the United States — 168 and 746, respectively.

Immigrant visa totals do not include Cubans seeking refugee status, who also are arriving in smaller numbers.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow
@PGuzzoTimes.