Cubans traveling abroad in record numbers, officials say

Mon Oct 28, 2013 5:54pm EDT
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By Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans are taking advantage of the loosening of travel restrictions this year to go abroad in record numbers, the government said on Monday, with the tally of travelers rising by 35 percent since a new law took effect in January.

The United States, Mexico and Spain were the most visited destinations by Cubans, according to Colonel Lamberto Fraga Hernandez, deputy director of immigration.

The new law got rid of Cuba's much-hated need to obtain an exit visa and loosened other restrictions that had discouraged Cubans from leaving.

Fraga said that 226,877 Cubans had traveled abroad since the law went into effect on January 14, compared to 167,684 during the same period in 2012 and far more than traveled in previous years.

Cubans can now travel abroad for up to two years without returning home to renew their passports. Fraga said 58 percent had already returned and 24,000 had traveled more than once this year.

"The new migration measures have had a positive impact. ... Cubans are not fleeing, they are traveling normally," he told a Havana news conference.

"Today, obtaining visas is the main obstacle that limits Cubans' travel," Fraga said.

Cuba reported earlier this year that a record 46,000 residents had permanently left the Caribbean island in 2012, and the United States has reported an upsurge in the number of Cubans crossing into the country from Mexico, taking advantage of a special law that automatically welcomes them.   Continued...

A traveller stands at the check-in lobby at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan