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Cuba's new travel policy removes nearly all restrictions

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 7:24 p.m.

A look into the future: Summer vacations by Cuban families in Miami, Cuban doctors and athletes who left their posts or teams while on official trips abroad returning to Cuba for visits and everyday Cubans permitted to leave the island for up to two years at a time.

They are all possible, starting Monday, when Cuba's broad new migration and travel policy takes effect.

Cuba, long criticized for keeping families apart and punishing those who try to leave the island illegally, has removed nearly all restrictions on travel by its citizens, a move that could cause ripples well beyond the island of 11 million people.

Gone is the reviled “tarjeta blanca,” the white card or exit visa that Cuba used to control who could leave the island. Gone is the notarized letter of invitation from a foreign host.

Now Cubans simply need a valid passport to travel — as long as they can get a visa from the country they intend to visit and a ticket for travel. Cuban authorities say they have set up 195 locations around the country where citizens may apply for passports. Those who already hold passports will be required to recertify them under the reform.

But getting an entry visa allowing travel to another country and paying for a ticket are two big ifs.

“I was in Havana when the new policy was announced in October and people were very happy,” said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence analyst who lives in Miami. “But people thought it was going to be easy to get a visa and travel. Just getting the money for a ticket will be a monumental problem for many people.”

Presumably many Cubans will seek visas to travel to the United States — and now even minor children will be allowed to travel as long as they have the authorization of parents or legal guardians.

But it's unlikely the State Department's U.S. Interests Section in Havana will be handing out significantly more non-migrant visas than it does now. That could spur Cubans, intent on reaching the United States, to seek indirect routes through nearby countries or those that don't require entry visas for Cubans.

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