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U.S. To Reactivate Consulate In Havana

Mar 7, 2022 | By Peter Kornbluh
U.S. To Reactivate Consulate In Havana
Photo/iStock

The Biden administration will begin to re-staff the U.S. Consulate in Havana in order to provide “limited visa processing” for Cubans to immigrate to the United States, according to a statement posted last week on the U.S. Embassy website. “The U.S. Embassy in Havana will initiate limited resumption of some immigrant visa services,” states the March 3rd announcement, “as part of the broader expansion of the Embassy’s functions to facilitate diplomatic and civil society engagement and to expand the provision of consular services.” 

The Consulate has been effectively closed since September 2017 when the Trump administration drastically reduced Embassy staffing following reports of unexplained neurological injuries to CIA and State Department personnel on the island. Since then, what has been called “the Havana Syndrome” has morphed into a worldwide phenomenon with cases of unexplained health incidents involving U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats reported in countries such as China, Austria, England, India, Vietnam and even in Washington, D.C.

Since the Havana consulate closed in 2017, Cubans have been forced to travel to U.S. consulates abroad to apply for U.S. visas, most notably to Guyana—an expensive effort which few Cubans have the resources to undertake. Amidst the Covid-generated economic crisis gripping the island, thousands of Cubans have also trekked through Central America and Mexico to illegally cross into the United States. According to State Department statistics, the Havana Embassy faces a backlog of 90,000 visa petitions from Cubans wishing to join family members in the United States.
The Embassy also faces a backlog of 22,000 applications under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program—a program suspended by the Trump administration that enabled Cuban-American families to expedite bringing relatives from Cuba to the United States. Congressional Democrats from Florida and New Jersey recently introduced the “Cuban Family Reunification Parole Act of 2022,” which mandates that the State Department assign staff to the Embassy to process petitions for the family parole program. If enacted, the law would obligate the State Department to adjudicate the backlog of petitions within six months after passage of the legislation.
 
The State Department has yet to specify how many diplomatic officers will be dispatched to Havana, and when they would arrive. “Immigrant visa services serve as a safe and legal pathway for family reunifications,” said embassy chargé d’affaires Timothy Zúñiga-Brown. “The U.S. Embassy in Havana looks forward to scheduling limited appointments for some categories of immigrant visas as soon as feasible, while also prioritizing all routine services to U.S. citizens, such as passport services, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) applications, and voting services.” 

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