The Cuban government has announced plans to reinstate travel permit requirements for many doctors who want to travel off the island.
The decision, announced on the front page of Cuba’s state-run media on Tuesday, is in response to a recent brain drain that Cuba blames on U.S. immigration policies. The restrictive measure marks a significant change to President Raul Castro’s policy of opening its borders to make it easier for Cubans to travel outside the communist-run island.
Two years ago, Castro rolled back many of its toughest Cold War-era travel restrictions that had been in place since the 1960s and required Cubans to request an exit visa and a letter of invitation to leave the island.
Cuba says the new clampdown was prompted by a large wave of emigration by health professionals in recent years. Under the change, doctors must now request permission from Health Ministry officials to be able to travel.
The decision is intended to “guarantee efficient and quality healthcare to Cubans and also to mitigate the effects of selective and politicized immigration policies by the United States toward Cuba,” the government announcement said.
The change came after a meeting on Monday between U.S. and Cuban officials to discuss the growing Cuban immigration crisis. Cubans have long benefitted from a special immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” under which Cubans migrants who make it to U.S. soil are allowed to remain but those intercepted at sea are returned home. Particular preference is given to Cuban doctors working as part of Cuba’s overseas medical missions, who are often put on a fast track to U.S. residency.
Cuba claims the U.S. policy toward Cuban doctors is encouraging many to leave. “It has the perverse objective of encouraging Cuban health professionals to abandon their missions in other countries,” the government said.
According to the government, large numbers of doctors with specialties in gynecology, neonatal care, neurosurgery, obstetrics and anaesthesiology have emigrated in recent years.
As relations between the two countries get restored, some Cubans are worried the U.S. will end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. U.S. officials have reported larger than normal numbers of Cubans trying to reach U.S. shore by sea. Others have opted to make a treacherous journey over land, flying to South America and then traveling north towards the U.S. border.
More than 3,000 Cuban migrants seeking to reach the United States are currently trapped in migratory limbo in northern Costa Rica, following Nicaragua’s decision to close its border last month.
Last month, Fusion published a four-part series looking at Cuban migration to the United States. Read the stories here: