The U.S. Embassy in Havana has resumed processing visas for Cubans, though on a limited basis, more than four years after stopping consular services on the island amid a hardening of relations. The resumption comes as the number of Cubans trying to emigrate illegally to United States surges.
A State Department official on Wednesday told The Associated Press that for the time being U.S. officials in Havana will only process visa requests from Cubans who are the parents of U.S. citizens, under a category known as IR-5, and that the Biden administration in the future will evaluate expanding the services to others.
The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said the U.S. government decided to process only visa requests from this group because of “the unique age, health, and mobility challenges for this category of applicants.”
Any other applicants should apply for visas through the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, as they've done since 2018, when the administration of former President Donald Trump withdrew embassy staff from Havana.
Operations at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba started being reduced in 2017 following reports of unexplained health problems among some employees, which became known as the “Havana Syndrome” and was a major issue during the Trump administration.
Trump increased sanctions against the Caribbean island, from the cancellation of permits to send remittances, to penalties for companies from third countries that operate in Cuba, to limitation of flights and the punishment of oil tankers bound for Cuba.
The sanctions affected the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba that had been initiated by former President Barack Obama.
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President Joe Biden had promised to relax the tough measures, but so far this has not happened.
The resumption of visa processing in Havana came less than two weeks after the U.S. and Cuba held their highest-level diplomatic talks in four years, focused on migration.
The State Department said the talks covered areas of successful cooperation on migration but also identified obstacles to ensuring safe, orderly and legal migration.
U.S. border authorities reported last month that the number of Cubans seeking entry had doubled from February to March to 32,500 and is now five times the number it was in October.