World Bulletin / News Desk
Cuba will scrap travel restrictions starting in January, easing most Cubans' exit and return, state media said on Tuesday, in the communist island's first major immigration reform in half a century.
The Cuban government imposed broad restrictions on travel starting in 1961.
The government now is set to lift requirements to obtain an exit visa permitting departure from Cuba and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country.
Instead, starting on Jan. 14, Cubans will simply have to show a passport and, if needed, a visa from the country to which they are traveling, Communist Party newspaper Granma said.
The changes are the latest reform under President Raul Castro, who has modestly liberalized Cuba's Soviet-style economy. They are sure to please Cubans who have chafed at the country's travel restrictions.
The process of obtaining the needed documents has been time-consuming and expensive, with no guarantee at the end that the government would grant permission to leave.
The measure also extends to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can remain abroad, and they can request an extension when that runs out. Currently, Cubans lose residency and other rights including social security and free health care and education after 11 months.
Still, the notice said Cuba plans to put limits on travel within unspecified sectors.
Doctors, scientists, members of the military and others considered valuable parts of society currently face restrictions on travel to combat brain drain.
"The update to the migratory policy takes into account the right of the revolutionary State to defend itself from the interventionist and subversive plans of the U.S. government and its allies," the note said.
"Therefore, measures will remain to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent applied by the powerful."