Havana – The Cuban government will ease restrictions on visits to the island by people who emigrated without authorization, including doctors and athletes who defected while on excursions abroad, a senior official said.
The measures are intended to "deepen and intensify" relations with Cubans living outside the country, Cabinet secretary Homero Acosta said on state television.
Under the new regulations, people who emigrated without authorization after Cuba and the United States signed a migration pact in 1994 will be allowed to return for visits once eight years have elapsed since their "illegal" departure.
Health professionals and athletes who defected during missions abroad after 1990 can likewise visit Cuba, again subject to the eight-year requirement, Acosta said.
The liberalization will not apply to people who left Cuba via the "illegal" U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo due to national security concerns, he said.
Cuba's Communist government also plans to facilitate the return of people who emigrated before the age of 16 and of expats who wish to come home to take care of ailing or disabled relatives.
The provisions announced by Acosta are part of a broad migration reform set to take effect on Jan. 14.
The package includes the elimination of the hated exit permits and a doubling - to 24 months - of the length of time Cubans can spend abroad at a single stretch.
More than 99 percent of Cubans who applied for exit permits in the last 12 years received them, the Cabinet secretary said, adding that only 120,700 of the more than 940,000 people who traveled abroad during that period failed to return.
Exiles living in the United States accounted for the most of the 400,000 expats who visited Cuba last year, Acosta said.