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Immigration Changes for Cuban Nationals Announced

Significant changes in US immigration policy were announced on January 12, 2017 in a joint statement from the US and Cuban governments.  Commencing immediately, DHS has eliminated a special parole policy for arriving Cuban nationals commonly known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy.  

The most significant immigration change is under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.  Under this act, 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, lawful permanent resident 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. Secretary Johnson is rescinding this outdated INS policy. Cuban nationals will no linger be afforded this special protection previously granted.

Additionally, DHS has the authority to effectuate the removal of certain categories of individuals, including those apprehended at ports of entry or near the border, through what is known as expedited removal. Under longstanding law and policies, however, Cuban nationals were exempt from being removed through expedited removal proceedings. In light of recent changes in the relationship between the United States and Cuba, the Secretary has determined that such exemptions for Cuban nationals are no longer warranted. Today, the Department is amending its regulations and issuing a notice in the Federal Register to remove such exemptions from policies governing the use of expedited removal for Cuban nationals who arrive by air, land, and sea. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who are 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. 

However, DHS has left unchanged the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program that 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. The program seeks to expedite family reunification through safe, legal, and orderly channels of migration to the United States and discourage dangerous and irregular maritime migration. 

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