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Recent Trends in Cuban Migration

Recent Trends in Cuban Migration

Luis R. Luis

The announcement by President Barack Obama on January 12th that the US is terminating the policy of allowing Cubans that arrive without a visa to remain in the country is a major event for the island’s population and could also have significant economic implications.  In this note I take a look at available data on Cuban migration and at some possible implications of the recent US policy change.

Cuban official statistics on international population movements disclose net migration but not its emigration and immigration components (Chart 1).  Between 2000 and 2012 net emigration steadily increased from about 30,000 per year to nearly 47,000.  There was a sudden reversal of this trend in 2013 and 2014 when net emigration reverted to a slight net immigration of 3,300 and 1,900 respectively.  It is not known whether this is due to a change in methodology or coverage or to an upsurge of Cuban and foreign nationals establishing residence in the country /1.  The implication is that net migration in 2013 and 2014 became insignificant in terms of population growth but not necessarily in terms of its labor force and economic impact.

                                                CHART 1

Source: Oficina Nacional de Estadistica e Informacion, Republica de Cuba.

Foreign data on Cuban emigration to the three most important destination countries shows a clear rising trend from 18,000 in 2010 to 69,000 in 2016 (Chart 2).  This suggests that Cuba should have experienced substantial immigration in 2013 and 2014 to reach the near balanced net migration reported in official Cuban statistics.

The bulk of Cuban emigration or 56,400 in 2016 was recorded in the United States so that immigration policy changes in this country have a key importance for Cuban migration patterns.  Cuban emigration outside of the US, Spain and Mexico is not broadly documented although available data indicates that it is relatively unimportant, particularly to developed countries.  For example permanent residents in Canada of Cuban origin averaged 1100 per year in 2010-2015./2

The recent exodus of Cubans via Ecuador to Central America and Mexico and aiming to reach the US is well documented in the press but precise figures are not available. The number of registered immigrants in Mexico is  well below the number entering the country so there well may be sizable informal immigration. There has also been emigration from countries such as Venezuela and Brazil with sizable contingents of Cuban medical personnel some of whom have sought residence in South America.

                                                   CHART 2

Sources:  See Table 1

The bulk of Cuban emigration to developed countries can be reasonably summarized in Chart 2 and in Table 1 which shows specific Cuban immigration figures for the US, Spain and Mexico./3 The US data includes two different immigrant classifications: 1) Lawful permanent residents and 2) Non-visa Cuban aliens.  I use this second category as the proxy for Cuban immigration. The recent Obama announcement will curtail this figure from about 60,000 to the amount allowable under regular immigration regulations./4  The maximum allowed under the family-based category is 15,820 per year./5  There is also a limit for employment-based visas of 9,800 which have rarely been used for Cuban immigrants.  There is no limit for immediate relatives. A rough estimate of immigrants allowed under existing regulations may be from 20,000 to 30,000 or at most around one-half of the 2016 level.

TABLE 1Cuban Immigration to US, Spain and Mexico 2010-2016    United States        Spain       MexicoPermanentNon-visaCubanCubanAirRegisteredresidentsentriesoriginbirtharrivals immigration2010335737487611499603924946520113645278217399125864087276220123282012240573092814488132472013322191769651168399488871366201446679242784608788156253209720155439643159485378186327096232016n.a.5640651267918905324364

Sources: US  Department of Homeland Security

Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Madrid, Spain

Instituto Nacional de Migracion, Mexico.

It is not likely that Cuban emigration will be reduced on a one-to-one basis by the new US policy.  Migrants will seek other destinations.  On the absence of migration policy changes in other developed nations, the void may be filled out by destinations in developing nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.  While the impact on Cuban demography would hence be modest, the income-generating potential of migrants will be reduced.  This could reduce remittances in the short-term by some $40 million per year.[6]

1/Ernesto Hermandez-Cata made reference to this phenomenon in “Cuba: Is it a Demographic Revolution or a Blip?” ASCECUBABLOG, February 9, 2016.

2/ Citizenship Canada, Government of Canada.

3/ Chart 2 total is the sum of columns 2,4 and 6 in Table 1.

4/ The US data refers to fiscal years which end on September 30th.  This underestimates actual 2016 Cuban immigration

5/ US Citizenship and Immigration Service.

6/ I assume average remittances lost of $2,500 per remitter in 2017.

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