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United States has Begun a New Visa Programme to Reunite Cuban Families
"The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana is pleased to announce the first official travel documents have been delivered to an eligible Cuban family under the Cuban Family Reunification Programme (CFRP)," which ensures legal, safe and orderly immigration from Cuba, Consul General Sean Murphy told journalists on Thursday.

What is new about this programme is that families will now be able to obtain a "parole" document to enter U.S. territory, instead of staying in Cuba to apply for permanent legal residence in the United States, thus dramatically shortening the waiting period.

The parole document is a temporary authorisation to travel, which would be replaced in the United States by a resident permit. According to Murphy, under the previous rules people might have to wait for a visa for up to 10 years, whereas now the waiting period will be no more than 10 weeks.

"The purpose of the programme is to expedite family reunification through safe, legal and orderly channels of migration to the United States and to discourage dangerous and irregular maritime migration," says a press release distributed by USINT to the foreign press.

Julio (last name withheld), a 33-year-old Cuban who has tried several times in the past to reach the United States aboard precarious watercraft, admitted to IPS that the sea route is "very dangerous," even in fast motorboats, which "can turn over, or leave you stranded on some key" along the way if the traffickers are not paid on time.

He said that the crossing in a speedboat could cost up to 10,000 dollars. Julio gave up putting out to sea after all his previous attempts were frustrated, for one reason or another. "The last time we almost foundered, but a cruiser rescued us and handed us over to the U.S. Coast Guard, which brought us back to Cuba," he said.

Under what is known as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, the United States repatriates would-be Cuban immigrants intercepted at sea, but those who manage to reach dry land can obtain residence in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, no matter how they entered the country.

"Well, if my mother (who lives in the United States) does something about it now, I might have the chance to get there soon," said Julio. "Im not interested in the jobs they offer me here. Im a mechanic and an electrician, and thats the work I want to do, but over there," he added.

USINT said that approximately 12,000 immigrant visa petitioners have been notified that their family members are eligible for the CFRP and, to date, more than 5,000 of them have asked to participate in the programme.

Prospects are good for persons in the United States to be reunited with family members living in Cuba, said Murphy, who added that the programme is an open one, with no deadline, special to Cuba, and will be "key" in fulfilling the migration agreements.

Signed in 1994 and 1995, the agreements stipulated that the United States would issue at least 20,000 visas a year for Cuban migrants.

Last year only 15,000 visas were issued, and USINT blamed "restrictions" imposed by the Cuban government, such as denying entry visas for new USINT personnel, and bans on importing materials.

USINT officials told the foreign press that their working conditions have improved, in that they have more personnel and resources, although the consulate is still short staffed.

Murphy said that this U.S. fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008, 9,390 visas have been issued, including 3,000 for refugees, less than half of the 20,000 called for by the bilateral agreement. He said that he thought the new programme would help them meet the target.

In 2007, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that non-fulfilment of the agreement encouraged "illegal emigration," and that Washingtons preferential treatment of Cuban immigrants stimulated illegal attempts to leave the island, as well as crime and social unrest in the country.

So far this fiscal year, 2,891 Cuban nationals tried to reach the United States across the Florida Straits, 21 percent more than in the equivalent period of the previous year, when the total was 2,300.

Official estimates in Cuba indicate that between 1.3 million and 1.5 million Cubans and their descendants currently live abroad, most of them in the United States.


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