May 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden to expand flights to Cuba, resume family reunification program

Photo of the Cuban capitol building with a large Cuban flag hanging in the foreground

A Cuban flag is seen near the nation's capital in Havana on Nov. 15, 2021. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration announced Monday that it will reinstate a program allowing U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for their family members in Cuba to enter the U.S. without waiting for immigrant visas.

Why it matters: The move is part of a series of actions the U.S. is taking intended to bolster support for the Cuban people, one year after the largest anti-government protests on the island in decades took place.

Details: In addition to reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which former President Trump suspended, the Biden administration will also further increase capacity for consular services and visa processing in Havana.

  • It will remove the limit on the amount of money people in the U.S. are allowed to send to their family members in Cuba, which currently is capped at $1,000 per quarter per sender-receiver pair.
  • The U.S. is also expanding authorized travel to locations beyond Havana, reinstating group travel for things like professional meetings an research.
  • The administration said it will seek to boost support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs by authorizing access to expanded cloud technology and e-commerce platforms.

What they're saying: The measures are aimed at making it "easier for families to visit their relatives in Cuba and for authorized U.S. travelers to engage with the Cuban people, attend meetings, and conduct research," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

  • They will also allow "more Cubans to join their families in the United States via regular migration channels."
  • "We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures," Price added.

Cuba recently instated a new criminal code that experts warn will further stifle dissent and independent media.

  • The laws, which target “acts against security of the state,” were approved unanimously on Sunday, almost a year after the protests that hundreds of Cubans were arrested and faced trial.
  • Groups with international financing face up to 10 years in prison if they’re considered propagandists or dangerous to the state (as the Cuban regime deems many independent media outlets and NGOs). People who insult public officials face up to three years in jail.

Some of Biden's Democratic allies were not happy with the decision.

  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he is "dismayed" that the Biden administration will begin authorizing "visits akin to tourism."
  • "For years, the United States foolishly eased travel restrictions arguing millions of American dollars would bring about freedom and nothing changed," Menendez said in the statement.
  • "[T]he regime ultimately laughed off any promises of loosening its iron grip on the Cuban people and we ended up helping fund the machinery behind their continued oppression."
  • When asked about Menendez's concerns, a senior administration official told reporters that "we will ensure that that travel is purposeful and in accordance with U.S. law."

Marina Franco contributed to this report.

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