For several days, various media have been writing with great intensity about the departure of Cubans to other countries. Their main objective has been the priority for Cubans to reach the southern border of the United States, to benefit from the legislation that favors them.

New wave of Cuban migration to the United States

This tendency of Cubans to emigrate is not new, before and especially after the triumph of the Revolution, there was emigration from the island to other destinations, especially the United States, reporting a balance negative migration.1 every year, except in 1959, a year when there were more entries than departures, with a positive migratory balance of more than 12,000 people.

It is not the objective of this work to analyze why Cubans leave, and what caused the waves of migration at different timesbut to address the effects of this new crisis, focusing on the economy, on what has a strong impact given the composition of those who emigrate and the medium and long-term effects.

Cuba today is very different from previous years in terms of its demographic indicators. In the past, many people with work experience emigrated, but they were replaced by others, given the high birth rates, labor replacement was guaranteed.

Today the reality is different, the population is shrinking in its entirety, with negative annual growth rates since 2017. With an aging age structure, which means that every day there are more retirees, but in same time, it is difficult to replace this active population, because the population of 0 to 14 years old decreases every year.

Source: ONEI, Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, 2020. Population Chapter.

The reality is that it is the youngest who emigrate the most, whatever their destination, many of them having completed upper secondary and higher education, because this level can allow them to adapt to the profiles of the programs of skilled labor immigration. Among their aspirations is to revalidate the title they obtained in Cuba. In a study conducted a few years ago, it was said that about 86% of emigrants from the higher education institution system did so before the age of 40.

But the great flow increases with irregular emigration, which enters the United States under the protection of a preferential immigration policy, which challenges the debates on the current immigration reform and the approval of laws anti-immigrants in different states. The immigration legal framework that implements it includes regulations that guarantee the admission and obtaining of permanent legal residence, regardless of the route of entry and the country of origin of Cubans arriving after one year and one day in this territory. Among them are the “An Act to adjust the status of Cuban refugees to that of lawful permanent residents in the United States and for other purposes”, Public Law 89-732 of 1966, known as the Cuban Adjustment Act , and another set of laws. and administrative regulations.

The previous graph shows the Cuban migration balance from 1959 to today. The slight recovery observed in 2013 and 2014 is not very real, since it was when the 2013 immigration reform came into force; in the decree-law on which it is based, it is considered “that a Cuban citizen has emigrated, when he travels abroad for private business and remains uninterrupted for a period of more than 24 months without the authorization corresponding”. Therefore, many emigrants who entered Cuba before the two years, but who have their permanent residence in other countries, are not considered as such. Two other factors influenced these statistics: from March to December 2020 and between January and October 2021, Cuban borders were practically closed due to COVID-19, and the United States Embassy in Havana stopped the program of family reunification since 2017, and has been virtually closed without granting visas since 2020.

What is interesting is that this new wave, which arises after the conclusion of the executive document known as the policy of dry feet and wet feet, with the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the former Trump administration, can become the largest flow out of Cuba in the last 62 years, where it may even exceed the exodus from Mariel. This trend is demonstrated by the fact that between January and March 2022 alone, 58,489 Cubans had entered through the southern border of the United States and many estimates suggest that the number of emigrants could exceed 155,000 in 2022.

It is logical to worry, what will be the costs for Cuba of this labor exodus? Who will be in the cane fields at the government’s request to save the sugar industry? We are not in the 1970s and 1980s, when the mobilization and the exhortation of the population made it possible to go in these areas, the Cuba of today is different, even if the Cuban media insist on the word continuity . For a worker today, material incentives are more important than moral incentives, the stimuli must be financial, but beware, the budget deficit is growing, that is, if more wages are introduced, this is accompanied by inflation.

This new migratory wave captures a good part of the currency circulating in the country, which cannot be absorbed by Cuban institutions, since they do not have mechanisms for this. Specifically we are talking about the USD because it is a currency that cannot be used in the network of national stores, but it is the one that is used to pay the high cost of crossing to the southern border of the States United States, which averages more than $10,000 per traveler. A very simple calculation, just estimating that some 100,000 people will arrive in the United States throughout 2022 at a cost of between 8,000 and 10,000 per person, we are talking about a value between 800 million and 1 billion dollars who leave the country or do not arrive in the country. Keep in mind that only tickets to travel to the only destination that doesn’t require a visa for Cubans – which is Nicaragua – currently cost $4,500.

In conclusion, there are important effects on the country’s workforce, not only now, but in the medium and long term. A large proportion of those who emigrate are women of childbearing age, so their departure is helping to maintain the downward trend in birth rates in the country; although there are other factors, it is worth considering.

The country decapitalizes a mass of professionals of all sciences, in their era of knowledge generation, that is, eager to propose ideas or new perceptions of national reality, but the model does not recognize them as it must.

Therefore, in addition to recognizing the problem, it would be useful to know what the Cuban state plans to do to reverse the trend that people have as one of their first options for leaving for another society. I don’t believe that with slogans and diplomas this goal can be achieved, strong and solid measures are needed, which are not the 163 measures to promote agriculture, nor the 15 for industry. There must be other ways out of the sad reality of the Cuban economy.

The blockade, which is a constant in this equation, affects all of Cuban society, but I think we need to look within and see what else the Cuban government can do to alleviate the current deep economic crisis.


To note:

1 Net migration: This is the difference between incoming and outgoing migration flows for the same reason; therefore, its positive or negative sign indicates that the inputs exceed the outputs or vice versa.

Omar Everleny