United States: End Of Immigration Privileges For Cuban Nationals Signals Changes In U.S.-Cuba Relationship

Tara L. Vance and Neal N. Beaton are partners in our New York office and Liliana V. Farfan is an Associate in our Washington, D.C., office.


  • Before leaving office, former President Barack Obama put an end to the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, a special parole policy unique to Cuban nationals arriving to the United States without visas that allowed them to obtain permanent residency (i.e., green card status) after being in the U.S. for one year. As a result, Cuban nationals who attempt to illegally enter the U.S. are now subject to the same migration procedures and standards applicable to nationals of other countries.
  • The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that allowed Cuban doctors and nurses to apply for parole at any U.S. embassy has also been terminated.
  • Cuban nationals also are no longer exempt from expedited removal proceedings that authorize removal without a hearing before an immigration judge of certain aliens who are in, or arrive to, the U.S. without valid documents for admission or entry.

Before former President Barack Obama left office, one of his last acts was to repeal the policy granting asylum to every Cuban national who made it to the United States. As part of the normalization of formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, Obama announced on Jan. 12, 2017, the end of the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, a change that came just one week before President Donald Trump took office.

The wet-foot, dry-foot policy was a special parole policy unique to Cuban nationals arriving to the U.S. without visas. It allowed such nationals to adjust their statuses to that of lawful permanent residents after being in the U.S. for one year. Due to the policy change, Cuban nationals are now treated like all other foreign nationals attempting to enter the U.S. without visas.

The termination of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program was announced at the same time as the repeal of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy. This program permitted Cuban medical personnel to be granted asylum at any U.S. embassy or consulate worldwide. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice released Federal Register notices on Jan. 17, 2017, amending these regulations to conform to the policy changes. The new regulations eliminate the categorical exceptions that barred expedited removal proceedings of Cuban nationals who arrived in the U.S.

In exchange, Cuba has agreed to accept thousands of Cuban nationals who previously came to the U.S. under the wet-foot, dry-foot policy, but ultimately were denied the ability to remain in the U.S. This most often occurred because the Cuban nationals were deemed to have criminal records.

These actions were described by former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson as "part of the ongoing normalization of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba" and as advancing the goal of putting U.S. relations with Cuba "on equal terms" to U.S. relations with other countries.


The wet-foot, dry-foot policy, established on Sept. 9, 1994, under the Clinton Administration, was the result of an immigration understanding between the U.S. and Cuba known as the Joint Communiqué. The migration agreement provided that Cuban migrants rescued at sea attempting to enter the U.S. (wet foot) would not be permitted to enter the U.S. and would be returned to Cuba or taken to another country. Only Cubans who reached U.S. soil (dry foot) were entitled to the protection of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA). The CAA gives the attorney general the discretion to grant permanent residency (i.e., green card status) to Cuban nationals who have been physically present in the U.S. for one year, irrespective of their visa statuses, as long as they have been inspected and admitted or paroled into the country – a privilege created for Cubans alone due to the U.S. interest in stopping communism and the consequent lack of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba.

On Aug. 11, 2006, the Bush Administration instituted the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (Medical Parole Program). To carry out the Medical Parole Program, DHS exercised its discretionary authority, granted by the Immigration and Nationality Act, to parole Cuban medical professionals into the U.S. The program allowed Cuban healthcare providers, sent by the Castro regime to work or study in other countries, to apply for parole at any U.S. embassy, consulate or U.S. immigration office worldwide. Their spouses and/or unmarried children were also eligible for parole. The program is said to have created a "brain drain" of the Cuban healthcare system and was viewed by the Cuban government as a "reprehensible practice" designed to deny Cuba and other countries "vital human resources." The program also deprived the Cuban government of the income raised by those healthcare professionals deployed overseas. Cuban medical professionals were sent to various countries by the Cuban government in exchange for payments by those governments. The arrangements were controversial because the healthcare workers received only a fraction of the payments made to the Cuban government.

On Dec. 17, 2014, Obama announced that the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, along with the easing of certain economic sanctions and removal of certain limitations on travel, commerce, financial transactions and the free flow of information. The official re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba took place on July 20, 2015, with the opening of embassies in both countries. Since then, the two countries have resumed direct mail service and commercial flights.

Repatriation of Cubans and Current Implications

The U.S. and Cuba also signed a joint statement on Jan. 12, 2017, by which Cuba agreed to the repatriation of Cuban nationals who attempt to enter or remain in the U.S. irregularly after the date of the joint statement. Cuba also agreed to take back some Cuban nationals who came to the U.S. via the Port of Mariel in 1980 and faced deportation from the U.S. The joint statement did not address the hundreds of U.S. fugitives who have fled to Cuba after indictment and even after conviction.

The termination of the special immigration privileges for Cuban nationals have the following implications:

  • Cuban nationals who attempt to illegally enter the U.S. are now subject to the same migration procedures and standards applicable to nationals of other countries. Cuban nationals who attempt to enter or remain in the U.S. illegally are subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.
  • The U.S. no longer accepts parole applications under the Medical Parole Program at U.S. embassies and consulates. Any request for parole is treated in the same manner as parole requests filed by nationals of other countries. Cuban medical personnel may apply for asylum, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.
  • Effective Jan. 13, 2017, Cuban nationals are no longer exempt from expedited removal proceedings, which authorize removal without a hearing before an immigration judge of certain aliens who are in, or arrive to, the U.S. without valid documents for admission or entry.
  • The Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which allows beneficiaries of approved family-sponsored immigrant visas to travel to the U.S. before their visas become available, remains in place.
  • Cuban nationals already paroled into the U.S. are not affected by the change.
  • The U.S. maintains its commitment of ensuring legal migration from Cuba with a minimum of 20,000 Cubans each year.

Future Implications

Although improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba are expected to increase travel and business between the two countries, Trump's position on these policies is unclear. The changes to Cuban policy made by the Obama Administration were made through executive order, which could be reversed by the current president. However, amendment or repeal of the CAA and other Cuban-related laws that remain in effect will ultimately require approval by the U.S. Congress.

Trump has stated that, in exchange for the easing of restrictions, Cuba should be providing the U.S. with more concessions. Although he referred to human rights issues, he has not specifically enumerated what he means by his statement. It remains to be seen what direction Trump will take in relation to Cuba and how that direction will affect immigration policy toward Cuban nationals.

Attorneys on Holland & Knight's Immigration, Nationality and Consular Team and Cuba Action Team, as well as members of our Public Policy & Regulation Group, can assist you with your immigration needs involving Cuba.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.