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Cuban Nationals Affected by Changes to Decades-Old Special Privileges

In the waning days of President Obama’s term, the Administration rescinded certain policies unique to Cuban nationals. Specifically, DHS has eliminated a special parole policy for arriving Cuban nationals, commonly known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy, as well as a policy for Cuban medical professionals known as the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. It is also eliminated an exemption that previously prevented the use of expedited removal proceedings for Cuban nationals apprehended at ports of entry or near the border.

For decades, DHS and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have had special policies for considering parole requests from Cuban nationals. Those policies were justified by certain unique circumstances, including conditions in Cuba, the lack of diplomatic relations between our countries, and the Cuban Government’s general refusal to accept the repatriation of its nationals. In December 2014, President Obama announced a historic opening between the United States and Cuba, as well as an approach for reestablishing diplomatic relations and adjusting regulations to facilitate greater travel, commerce, people-to-people ties, and the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. Since that announcement, the United States and Cuba have reestablished full diplomatic relations and taken concrete steps towards enhancing security, building bridges between our peoples, and promoting economic prosperity for citizens of both countries. In light of these factors, the Secretary of Homeland Security determined that it is time to adjust the special parole policies for Cuban nationals. Considering the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations, Cuba’s signing of a Joint Statement obligating it to accept the repatriation of its nationals who arrive in the United States after the date of the agreement, and other factors, the Secretary concluded that, with the limited exception of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, the parole policies discussed above are no longer warranted.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, the status of any Cuban national may be adjusted to that of a lawful permanent resident (i.e., green card status) if he or she (1) was inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States, (2) has been physically present in the United States for at least one year, and (3) is otherwise admissible. The policy commonly known as “wet-foot/dry-foot” generally refers to an understanding under which Cuban migrants traveling to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet foot”) are returned to Cuba or resettled in a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry foot”) are able to request parole and, if granted, LPR status under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The former INS established a policy strongly encouraging the parole of Cuban nationals who arrived in the United States so that they could apply for relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

DHS also announced that it would no longer exempt Cuban nationals from expedited removal; thus, those Cuban nationals apprehended at ports of entry or near the border may be placed into expedited removal proceedings in the same manner as nationals of other countries.

DHS also eliminated a controversial program instituted in 2006, which allowed certain Cuban medical personnel in third countries (i.e., not Cuba or the United States) to apply for parole. Applicants under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program were required to show that they were medical professionals currently conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government. Such individuals and their family members could apply for parole at a USCIS office, or U.S. embassy or consulate located in the third country. DHS will no longer accept parole applications from medical professionals under the CMPP program.

DHS has, however, kept in place the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program, which allows beneficiaries of certain approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions to travel to the United States before their immigrant visas become available, rather than remain in Cuba to await a visa.