“I don’t know when we’re going to be able to,” the US charge d’affaires in Havana, Benjamin Ziff, acknowledged in an interview with EFE, when asked when the legation in Cuba could issue non-migrant visas again.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen soon. We have to be in a position to do it,” added Ziff, who stressed that “the intention is there,” although he avoided talking about deadlines.
The diplomat recalled that the Embassy “was at a minimum of personnel for five years”, thus making reference to the bilateral controversy surrounding the so-called “Havana syndrome”, supposedly caused by “sonic attacks” that have not been proven.
The Embassy now has “one third” of the staff of six or seven years ago and returning it to that situation “will take a while” due to the bureaucratic processes of the US administration and logistical difficulties in Cuba, indicated its head, who came to Havana in 2022.
“I believe that the Cuban economy is the responsibility of the Cuban Government and that the Cuban Government is responsible for improving the economy so that people do not want to leave”
He also pointed out that “there are a good number” of other visas “that still have to be processed”, among them those for family reunification – which are “the priority” for Washington – and pointed out that his forecast is that the demand for non-refundable visas migrant is “extremely high” among Cubans.
Cuba is going through an unprecedented wave of migration in the midst of its biggest economic crisis in decades. In 2022, more than 313,000 Cubans migrated irregularly to the US alone, which represents around 3% of its population. Several tens of thousands more marched to Mexico, Spain and other countries.
The charge d’affaires pointed to economic causes to explain this trend and assured that the factors that “push” migration from Cuba “are more important than any other factor” of attraction, when questioned about Washington’s economic sanctions and regulations such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, which facilitates permanent residence for these nationals.
“I believe that the Cuban economy is the responsibility of the Cuban government and that the Cuban government is responsible for improving the economy so that people do not want to leave,” he replied.
Ziff did not foresee major changes for Cuban migrants with the controversial end this midnight of title 42, a rule that allowed the immediate expulsions of migrants who crossed the border irregularly for public health reasons during the pandemic.
However, he stressed the emphasis of the Joe Biden administration on controlling migration: “while we expand legal channels, we are trying to make the penalties for irregular migration more rigorous.”
“Cubans should take advantage of the humanitarian parole program, the family reunification program, the diversity visas, all these legal programs”
“Cubans should take advantage of the humanitarian parole program, the family reunification program, the diversity visas, all these legal programs. Because if you are going to (try to reach the US through) the sea (… ) you can no longer opt for the humanitarian parole program, you will be returned to Cuba. You will have put yourself in danger and risked your life for nothing,” he said.
The charge d’affaires added that trying to access the US irregularly through the southern border also has negative consequences, including the new measure that considers these migrants a priori ineligible to request asylum.
He also indicated that the US foresees “an increase in deportation flights” of migrants called “inadmissible” to all countries, “not only to Cuba.” “We expect a regular flow (of flights), depending on the needs,” she added.
Regarding the humanitarian parole program, he indicated that more than 20,000 Cubans have benefited from it since it started at the beginning of the year and he assured that he is not aware of “any particular plan to change” this system, in which people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti can migrate to the US if they are supported legally and financially by a “sponsor.”
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