It used to be the only people known for emigrating to communist Cuba were American fugitives from justice and plane hijackers. But the Cuban government claims one of the biggest groups applying to live on the island today are…Cuban exiles.
At a meeting in Belgium over the weekend with Cuban expatriates living in Europe, a Cuban diplomat confirmed a surprising figure. Ernesto Soberón, Cuba’s director of consular affairs, said in the past five years more than 40,000 Cubans living abroad have applied for residency on the island.
Cuban state media report President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the same in a private meeting in New York last month with Cubans living in the U.S.
Both men were referring to a program Cuba started in 2013 allowing Cubans living abroad to apply for “repatriation.” Many more than expected apparently took the offer. But Cuba has not specified how many applicants have been accepted – or how many of those have actually returned to live in Cuba.
At the same time Cuba offered expats residency five years ago it also allowed Cubans to travel freely off the island – and freely return. Earlier this year, Cuba also made it possible for U.S.-born Cuban-Americans to apply for dual citizenship. It was part of the new normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations.