HAVANA, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Cuba's much-anticipated new immigration law, which eases restrictions on leaving and entering the Caribbean island, went into effect Monday.
The new law has, for the first time in 50 years, removed the requirements for an exit visa and a letter of invitation to travel abroad, making it one of the most popular reforms enacted so far.
The law also extends the time Cubans can stay abroad, from 11 to 24 months, and the time Cubans residing abroad can stay in Cuba, from 30 to 90 days.
The "upgrade in immigration policy" brings Cuba closer to its goal of facilitating "legal, orderly and safe" travel and of "strengthening its relationship with its emigres," the official newspaper Granma said.
What the Cubans need now for traveling abroad is a valid passport and a visa from the destination country.
"Anyone who has the ability to travel can do it now because there are no limitations as long as you have a passport and a visa," said Mireya Moran, a Cuba citizen.
Scrapping the exit visa and letter of invitation also lifts financial
burdens for many Cubans, since the first costs 150 Cuban convertible pesos (170 U.S. dollars) and the latter, 120 convertible pesos (150 dollars).
The government still retains the authority to restrict travel for reasons of national security or for those deemed "vital," a measure designed to prevent a brain drain.
Countries have the right to act with the "supreme interests of society" in mind by preventing the exodus of "highly qualified professionals, scientists, technicians and athletes, considered key to the socio-economic development of the country," DIE deputy director Lamberto Fraga said.
Regardless, "most of the applications will be granted," he said.
Observers are waiting to see whether the new rules will affect U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba, which grants Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil the right to apply for residency.
Washington has announced it will not change its policy for the time being, but it will monitor the effect Cuba's new law has on immigration patterns.
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