America is bringing to an immediate end its policy of granting residency to Cubans arriving without visas.
The policy has been called “wet foot, dry foot” as Cubans who managed to set foot on US soil have been allowed to stay.
In return, Cuba has agreed to start accepting its own nationals who are refused entry or deported from the US.
Also being brought to an end is the Department of Homeland Security’s parole programme for Cuban medical professionals.
An immediate cutoff was chosen to prevent a wave of refugees taking to the seas in a rush to beat any deadline, and prevent loss of life.
For years many Cubans have sought to make it to the States in search of a better life, often taking to fragile rafts to escape the communist island by sea.
Amid the decades-long hostility between the two countries, the US made an exception to its immigration policy and allowed them in automatically – although the US coastguard intercepts many.
Previously US policy gave Cuban benefits enjoyed by nationals from no other country, meaning virtually every Cuban who made it into the US was granted the right to stay, apply for work permits and, later, green cards.
Obama ending the “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuba is HUGE. Growing up in Miami, this was a controversial rule especially among Haitians.— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) January 12, 2017
Two Havana residents gave their views of the change of policy:
“On one hand, it (the change) is good because as Cubans, we are more certain that we cannot go through this route and there won’t be as much loss of human life nor so much blood spilled in the sea,” said Leobiz Duquesne.
“It (the policy) was attacking our young people especially because the majority of people who did that [attempted the journey] had a large percentage of failure and lost their lives on the way,” added Jorge Bernal.
The move follows several years of political debate about whether or not to modify Cuban immigration policy.
The exception to normal immigration rules with regard to Cuban nationals was brought to an end after several months of talks amid the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana.
The change is one of the last acts of the Obama administration.
But his successor has taken a tougher stance on Cuba and future policy under Donald Trump is uncertain.
Obama is ending a policy that allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay legally, a move long sought by Cuba https://t.co/zEtKigxLSe— Crave for News (@CraveForNews) January 13, 2017