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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Cuba to scrap visas for exiles

By Stephen Gibbs
BBC correspondent in Havana

The Cuban Government has announced that from next April it will no longer be necessary for Cubans living abroad to apply for a visa if they want to return to the island.

Cuban dissidents
Havana wants more Cuban exiles to visit the island and spend more money
The decision is being seen as a goodwill gesture towards the Cuban exile community, most of whom live in the United States.

Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, almost 10% of the population of the Communist-led island has left. But many want to return, usually to visit their families.

Currently to do so, they have to go through a lengthy and costly process of applying for a visa from the Cuban authorities.

Some say it is a humiliation that they need a visa to go home.

Economic benefit

But from early next year, Cubans living outside the island would just be required to show a passport to the immigration authorities.

The move seems primarily aimed at moderate Cuban-Americans.

The Cuban Government is currently reaching out to this group in the knowledge that an increasing number of them are beginning to argue for the lifting of the four-decade-old US embargo on Cuba.

In the meantime, the change should have a more immediate economic benefit for Cuba's struggling economy. More Cuban exiles should visit and spend more money.

But some things will not be changing - most Cuban-Americans will still be restricted by the US authorities to making just one visit a year and it will not be any easier for Cubans in Cuba to leave the island.

Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that requires its citizens to apply for exit visas if they want to travel.

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