As of Thursday January 12, 2017 the US administration has repealed a measure granting automatic residency to virtually every Cuban who arrived in the country, whether or not they had visas, ending a long-standing exception to US immigration policy.
The end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed any Cuban who reached US soil to stay but returned any picked up at sea, is effective immediately.
Cuba welcomed the policy changes, saying they would benefit the whole region by discouraging people-trafficking and dangerous journeys that led to bottlenecks of Cubans in Central America last year.
“Today, a detonator of immigration crises is eliminated. The United States achieves legal, secure and ordered migration from Cuba,” said Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry’s chief for US affairs.
“Wet foot, dry foot” began in 1995 under President Bill Clinton after an exodus of tens of thousands of Cubans who were picked up at sea by the Coast Guard as they tried to reach Florida.
“With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws,” President Obama said in a statement. “This is a welcome step in reforming an illogical and discriminatory policy that contrasted starkly with the treatment of deserving refugees from other countries,” Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The Department of Homeland Security also ended a parole programme that allowed entry for Cuban medical professionals. That programme was unpopular with Havana because it prompted doctors to leave, sapping the country’s pool of trained health workers.
The move to end the policy comes just eight days before the Democratic president turns the White House over to Republican Donald Trump, who has said the US should get more concessions from Havana in exchange for improved relations. The shift had been in the works for months.
The shift had been in the works for months. It was announced abruptly because advance warning might have inspired thousands more people to take to the seas between the Communist-ruled island and Florida in order to beat a deadline.