The Biden administration will fully resume processing of immigrant visas at the American Embassy in Havana in early 2023 to prevent illegal immigration from Cuba, which last year fled a record number of its citizens to the US-Mexico border. The officials announced on Wednesday.
When the policy change goes into effect, Cubans sponsored by their US-based relatives will no longer need to travel to Guyana to interview US consular officials, one of the required steps in the immigrant visa process. Instead, all Cubans applying for visas to enter the United States are subjected to these interviews at the embassy in Havana.
The upcoming postponement will completely reverse the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to halt visa processing in Cuba and require applicants to undergo interviews at the US Embassy in Guyana. The Biden administration resumed restricted visa processing in Havana earlier this year.
The State Department, which oversees consular officers, also announced that the U.S. will send additional immigration officers to Cuba to expedite applications for the Cuban family reunification probation program, which the Biden administration is reviving this summer after its suspension by the Trump administration Has.
First launched in 2007, the program allows US citizens and permanent residents who have successfully sponsored their relatives in Cuba for immigrant visas to apply for their family members to enter the United States before their visas become available.
State Department officials said the changes would promote “safe and orderly” migration out of Cuba.
“These efforts are an important step in fulfilling the U.S. obligation under the U.S.-Cuba Migration Agreement to ensure that total legal migration from Cuba to the United States includes at least 20,000 Cubans, immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens not included.” said the department.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as the Biden administration continues to struggle to process large numbers of Cuban migrants entering US border custody. In fiscal 2022, nearly 200,000 Cubans were processed by U.S. border agents, a more than 400% increase since 2021, government data show.
Like regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua, which also saw record numbers of trips by their nationals to the US border over the past year, the Cuban government has not accepted US deportations, meaning that the vast majority of Cuban migrants illegally entering the country Enter the United States and are released to await their asylum hearing.
While the Obama administration ended in 2017 a long-standing “wet foot, dry foot” policy that virtually guaranteed Cubans entry into the United States if they set foot on American soil, a Cold War-era law still allows some Cuban migrants who are granted probation to apply for permanent residency after one year in the country.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration held talks with Cuban officials about a deal forged by the two countries in 2017 in which Cuba agreed to accept deportations from the US. However, the government in Havana has yet to publicly commit to accepting regular US deportation flights.
In addition to record arrivals along the southern border, the number of Cuban migrants banned at sea en route to the US has surged over the past year. According to government figures, the US Coast Guard grounded 5,545 Cubans at sea in fiscal year 2022, a 562% increase over 2021.