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U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba to remain unchanged: official


10:14, March 12, 2013

HAVANA, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Washington's immigration policy toward Cuba will remain the same despite the island nation's major reforms relaxing restrictions for Cubans to travel abroad, a U.S. official here said in an interview published on Monday.

In a rare interview with official daily Granma, Timothy Roche, consul general at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (USINT), said that although Washington "welcomes" Cuba's immigration reforms, his country has no immediate plans to change its regulations for Cubans who seek tourist or immigrant visas.

"The immigration regulations have not changed and the requirements remain the same," he said, adding that the application procedures were "demanding."

Roche said it is still "very difficult" for a young Cuban to secure a U.S. visa, as "many of them are looking for economic opportunities."

The USINT, which Washington maintains in Havana instead of an embassy since the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, hopes that the interview will address Cubans' speculation that the United States would introduce changes in keeping with Cuba's new travel rules, according to Granma.

Cuban authorities relaxed rules on travel to and from Cuba as of Jan. 14, but certain restrictions remain.

Before the changes, all Cubans needed an exit visa and a letter of invitation from abroad to travel. Under the new rules, both requirements have been dropped.

According to official figures, more than 940,000 Cubans traveled abroad out of a total population of 11.2 million between 2000 and 2012, and 12.8 percent of the travellers did not return.

Some 1.5 million Cubans live in the United States, or about 80 percent of all Cubans who left the country over the past 50 years.

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