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Cuba drops exit visa rule

HAVANA — Cuba will scrap much reviled travel restrictions starting in January, easing most Cubans’ exit and return, state media said today in the communist island’s first major immigration reform in half a century.

The Cuban government imposed broad restrictions on travel starting in 1961 to try to stop a mass migration of people fleeing after the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

The government will lift requirements to obtain an exit visa permitting departure from Cuba and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country.

Instead, starting on January 14, Cubans will simply have to show a passport and, if needed, a visa from the country they are travelling to, Communist Party newspaper Granma said.

The changes are the latest reform under President Raul Castro, who has modestly liberalised Cuba’s Soviet-style economy. They are sure to please Cubans who have chafed at the country’s travel restrictions.

The process of obtaining the needed documents is time consuming and expensive, with no guarantee at the end that the government will grant permission to leave.

The difficulty in travel has helped fuel charges for years that freedoms are limited in Cuba.

“There have been many expectations for many years about a new travel law. It’s a big step forward that will save us money and simplify the process,” said office worker Rafael Pena as he headed to work in Havana.

The changes are part of work “to update the current migratory policy adjusting it to prevailing conditions in the present and foreseeable future,” Granma said. (Reuters)

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