(18 Mar 2019) A new State Department policy eliminating a coveted five-year tourist visa for Cubans began on Monday, dealing a heavy blow to entrepreneurs and Cuban members of divided families, who used the visas to see relatives in the United States and buy precious supplies for their businesses on the island.
The elimination of the visa cuts a vital link between the US and Cuba by forcing Cubans make a costly and complicated trip to a third country like Mexico or Panama every single time they want to visit the US. That’s because the US withdrew most of its non-essential diplomatic staff from Havana in September 2017 and stopped issuing visas of almost any type in Cuba.
Until now, Cubans who saved the money and mastered the complexities of successfully applying for a visa in a third country would receive a visa eliminating the need to apply again for another five years.
That possibility disappeared when the B2 visa will only allow a single entry for a three-month stay, Mara Tekach, the US Embassy’s charge d’affaires, said in a video posted on Facebook Friday.
Tekach said the change was due to the need to achieve reciprocity between the visa rules of the US and Cuba, which issues Americans single-entry tourist visas allowing a stay of up to three months.
However, the Cuban visa application process is a formality, with airlines and travel agencies authorized to hand out visas to anyone who requests one and pays 50 US dollars as part of the purchase of an airline ticket or travel package.
Cubans must pay 160 US dollars, plus airfare and hotel costs in a third country, often to see their visa application swiftly rejected.
The seemingly obscure change in visa rules in fact is one of the harshest measures against Cuba taken by the Trump administration because of the effect it will have on the informal supply chain for the communist-run island’s small but vibrant private sector.
Virtually all of the supplies used by Cuban entrepreneurs from barbers to restaurant owners are either stolen from state enterprises or brought in suitcases from capitalist countries by business owners or “mules,” couriers with visas who are paid to haul in the hundreds of varieties of products unavailable in Cuba’s stagnant, centrally planned economy.
The US five-year visa not only allowed frequent trips to Miami, Latin American countries such as Mexico would allow Cubans with the US visa to enter automatically.
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