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44,000 Cuban migrants arrive in U.S. in fiscal year '13

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 8:42 p.m.

MIAMI — In mid-July, a public health clinic in Miami had such a sharp increase in Cuban migrants walking in for required health screenings that it had to expand its hours of operation.

The number of Cubans going to the Florida State Department of Health clinic surged by 20 percent in June, compared to the three-year average for the month, and experts in South Florida noted similar increases in arrivals.

By the end of August, the clinic had returned to its regular hours.

Cuban migrant arrivals in South Florida have subsided. But at least 44,000 arrived in the United States in fiscal year 2013, which ended Sept. 30. It was the highest total since 1994 and 10 percent higher than the estimated 40,000 arrivals in fiscal year 2012.

Several factors contributed to the increase: More U.S. visas issued to Cubans; rumors that U.S. benefits for Cuban migrants might be cut; Spain's economic crisis; Cuba's easing of its migration rules on Jan. 14; and a crackdown on Cubans living in Ecuador.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana issued 24,727 immigrant visas in fiscal year 2013, a slight drop from the 26,720 in the previous year, according to government figures. Washington promised to issue at least 20,000 migrant visas a year to Cubans after the 1994 “Rafter Crisis,” during which 35,000 migrants took to homemade boats, to discourage such risky voyages.

The number of tourist visas issued in the same periods more than doubled, from 14,362 to 29,927, the figures showed.

Officials say that on average, 20 percent of tourist visa recipients remained to live in the United States in recent years, suggesting that about 6,000 of the 29,927 visitors will become migrants.

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