HAVANA, Oct. 23th Since the immigration reform came into effect in 2013, more than 40,000 Cubans residing abroad have asked for “repatriation” to the island, said diplomat Ernesto Soberón during a meeting with Cubans living in Europe over the weekend.

According to Soberón, director of Consular and Cuban Affairs Residing Abroad of the Cuban chancellery, 40,603 Cubans living abroad have applied for permanent residence on the island, a process known as repatriation. The official did not clarify if that number corresponds to the approved requests.

It is unknown how many people return to live permanently in Cuba. Many people have requested repatriation to recover civil and economic rights that they lose when they decide to emigrate, for example, the right to have a home on the island. Despite recovering permanent residence in Cuba, these people can continue living in other countries, including the United States.

The immigration reform that came into force in January 2013 eliminated the so-called exit permit, although the government continues to prevent some activists and opponents from leaving the country. The changes also allow Cubans to remain abroad two years before being classified as “émigrés” and lose their residence on the island, as well as several civil, economic and political rights, according to current regulations.

The change has allowed many people who emigrated after the change of the law to be both permanent residents in the United States and Cuba, what the government has used to modify the statistics and argue that those Cubans have not really emigrated.

Soberón said that since January 2013 there were more than 2.6 million trips by Cuban citizens. It is not clear if the figure includes the departures of doctors and other professionals on official missions.

He also mentioned that the immigration authorities had registered the entry into the country of more than 2.8 million Cubans living abroad between January 2013 and January 2018.

“Cubans travel in an increasing way and do not emigrate in a massive way,” said Soberón during the XIIIth Regional Meeting of Cubans in Europe, held on Saturday in Brussels.

The figures, however, tell another story.

Only between fiscal years 2015 and 2017, 185,047 Cubans obtained permanent residence in the United States, according to official figures from the Department of National Security. The exodus of Cubans through Central America and Mexico during those years provoked a humanitarian crisis that required the intervention of the governments of those countries, the United Nations and the United States.

But the change in immigration policy in the United States, which began with then-President Barack Obama and has been accentuated under President Donald Trump, has significantly reduced the number of Cubans currently emigrating.

In January 2017, Obama eliminated the policy known as “dry feet, wet feet,” which granted a special entry permit (parole) to Cubans who arrived on US soil.

As a result, in fiscal year 2018 – which began on October 1, 2017 and ended on September 30 this year – 6,223 Cubans arrived at the border, according to figures from Customs and Border Protection. By comparison, in fiscal year 2016, 41,523 Cubans arrived in the United States through the border with Mexico.

The suspension of the processing of visas and the family reunification program in the embassy in Havana by the Trump government has further reduced the number of Cubans who emigrate to the United States. According to a report from the State Department, until August 3 of the 2018 fiscal year only 134 family reunification documents had been delivered.

When the south becomes the north for Cubans fleeing the island
The United States will also not meet the goal of 20,000 annual visas for migrants that it agreed with Cuba. As of the end of July 2018, only 3,195 visas were issued.