US resumes limited visa processing in Cuba after 4 years

HAVANA (AP) — The U.S. Embassy in Havana has resumed visa processing for Cubans, albeit on a limited basis, more than four years after consular services on the island were halted amid of a hardening of relations. The recovery comes as the number of Cubans trying to immigrate illegally to the United States increases.

A State Department official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that for now, U.S. officials in Havana will only process visa applications from Cubans who are parents of U.S. citizens, in a category known as of IR-5, and that the Biden administration in the future will evaluate extending the services to others.

The official, who was not authorized to be named, said the US government decided to only process visa applications from this group because of “the unique age, health and mobility challenges for this category of candidates”.

All other applicants must apply for a visa through the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, as they have done since 2018, when former President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew embassy staff from Havana.

Operations at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba began to be scaled back in 2017 following reports of unexplained health issues among some employees, known as “Havana Syndrome,” which constituted a major problem under the Trump administration.

Trump has increased sanctions against the Caribbean island, ranging from rescinding remittance permits to sanctions for third-country companies operating in Cuba, to limiting flights and punishing oil tankers in Cuba. Cuba destination.

The sanctions have affected the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba initiated by former President Barack Obama.

President Joe Biden had promised to ease the tough measures, but so far that hasn’t happened.

The resumption of visa processing in Havana came less than two weeks after the United States and Cuba held their highest-level diplomatic talks in four years, focusing on migration.

The State Department said the talks covered areas of successful migration cooperation, but also identified obstacles to ensuring safe, orderly, and legal migration.

US border officials reported last month that the number of Cubans seeking entry doubled from February to March to 32,500 and is now five times higher than in October.

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