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HAVANA: Cubans will no longer require exit permits for foreign travel from January 14, the government said yesterday, the latest in a trickle of reforms enacted on the communist-ruled island.
The government has also extended the period citizens are allowed to remain abroad from 11 to 24 months, with the new law set to enter into force 90 days from now, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Cuba has imposed stringent travel restrictions for a half-century but has failed to prevent thousands of its citizens from emigrating illegally each year, sometimes in dangerous sea voyages using rickety boats.
Havana had said the restrictions were necessary to prevent “brain drain,” the loss of doctors, engineers and other trained professionals to the United States and other countries offering higher salaries.
The foreign ministry said the latest changes “take into account the right of the revolutionary state to defend itself against interference and subversion by the US government and its allies.”
“For this reason, measures will be maintained which are aimed at preserving the human capital created by the revolution from the plunder of talent by the more powerful (countries),” it said, hinting at lingering restrictions.
Since 1966, Washington has granted Cubans automatic residence if they can reach US shores.
To travel abroad legally, Cubans have had to provide letters of invitation and get permits valid for 30 days. The permits can be extended 10 times, after which the traveller must return to Cuba or lose the right to reside there.
The complicated bureaucratic process for getting the required visas and permits includes fees that add up to around $500, making travel abroad unaffordable for many Cubans, whose average monthly salary is less than $20.
Nevertheless, more than 30,000 Cubans immigrate legally each year. Cuban President Raul Castro announced last year that the government was planning immigration reforms that would be introduced gradually. The president has pressed for economic reforms over the past two years aimed at modernising Cuba’s state-dominated economy while maintaining one-party rule.