Wednesday marks the first day that the American consulate in Havana has been fully operational since a slew of mysterious health occurrences among diplomatic workers in 2017 reduced the American presence there.
The Embassy announced this week that it would start processing immigrant visas, giving precedence to documents allowing Cubans to connect with relatives living in the United States and others like the diversity visa lottery.
The resumption coincides with the most significant exodus of people from Cuba in decades, which has put pressure on the Biden administration to start talks with the Cuban government and offer up more legal routes for Cubans, despite a historically contentious relationship.
Though it’s only a drop in the ocean of the migratory tide, propelled by the island’s escalating economic and political challenges, they expect to issue at least 20,000 visas per year.
U.S. police-reported stopping Cubans 34,675 times along the border with Mexico in November, up 21% from 28,848 times in October, according to reports released in late December.
That number has continuously increased from month to month. Behind Mexicans crossing the border, Americans are currently the second-largest nationality after Cubans. Data from Customs and Border Protection indicate.
Many issues, including economic, energy, and political challenges and widespread unhappiness among Cubans, have contributed to the increased diaspora.
While most Cuban migrants arrive in the United States by flying to Nicaragua and entering on foot at the Mexican border, hundreds more have also made the journey by water.
They trek 90 miles to the coast of Florida, frequently landing in flimsy, poorly built boats crammed with migrants.
The U.S. government must deal with an increasingly complicated situation on its southern border due to the departure from Cuba and surging immigration from nations like Haiti and Venezuela.
After several migration discussions and recent trips by U.S. officials to Havana, the embassy’s work on renewing visas may indicate a gradual thawing between the two countries.
Participating in these talks, according to the U.S., “underscores our commitment to pursue fruitful discussions with the government of Cuba whenever necessary to advance U.S. interests.”
In a statement released in November after an American group visited Cuba, the Embassy noted.
The tiny moves are a far cry from the state of affairs under President Barack Obama, who, during his administration, loosened numerous American Cold War-era sanctions and paid a historic visit to the island in 2016.
Following a string of health crises among embassy workers allegedly caused by sonic attacks and still mostly unsolved, visa and consular services were shut down on the island in 2017.
As a result, many Cubans seeking to immigrate to the United States lawfully have resorted to traveling by plane to countries like Guyana.
Although hostile relations between the U.S. and Cuba have always existed, they became even more so after the embassy was shut down and the Trump administration tightened its sanctions against Cuba.
The United States has loosened some limitations under President Joe Biden on items like remittances and family travel from Miami to Cuba but has fallen short of expectations held by many Cubans that a Biden president would usher in the restoration of the island’s “Obama period.”
There are still limitations on the import and export of various items and travel by tourists to Cuba.
The Cuban government’s severe handling of protesters on the island in 2021, notably the high prison terms given to juveniles, has also heightened tensions and been a frequent target of criticism from the Biden administration.
Officials from Cuba have frequently voiced optimism over negotiations with the United States and actions to restart visa services.
Assuring migration through secure and authorized channels is a “shared priority” of both nations, according to Carlos Cossio, deputy minister of foreign affairs for Cuba, who made the statement in November.
Cossio claimed that “there is no question that a strategy aiming to reduce the living conditions of a population is a direct driver of migration,” but he also attributed the exodus of tens of thousands from the island to U.S. sanctions.