Whether you're a Cuban citizen already living and seeking citizenship in America, or hoping to emigrate from Cuba to America in the next few years, you may be heartened by recent news reports on the improvement of trade and diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, including the re-opening of embassies closed since the 1960s.
What might these changes mean for your immigration status? Read on to learn more about the immigration process, as well as some of the practical effects this decision may have on the time, expense, and effort inherent in becoming a legal US citizen.
What will you need to do to become a US citizen?
There are a number of paths to citizenship: marrying a citizen and moving to the US, living in the U.S. on a job visa, or by escaping persecution in your home country. However, the path often used by those emigrating from Cuba is that of refugee. Because of the Cuban communist government's strict restrictions on free speech, free religion, and other rights inherent in the American system, many Cuban citizens who escape persecution and make their way to the U.S. are granted refugee status.
Once a Cuban resident has legally entered the US, he or she may be eligible to become a permanent resident after residing in the U.S. only one year, and without jumping through many of the hoops required of immigrants from other countries. Cuban immigrants may also be granted permanent residency status even if they have a past misdemeanor or felony conviction, which can be enough to disqualify others from entry to the US.
After your one year, you may be able to become a naturalized citizen after another few years. If you're married to a US citizen already, you can be eligible for naturalization as soon as 3 years after becoming a permanent resident; if you're married to a Cuban citizen or are unmarried, this wait may be extended to 5 years. Once you've fulfilled these residency requirements, and have taken (and passed) the citizenship test, you are officially an American citizen.
If you'd like to remain a Cuban citizen and simply keep your permanent residency, this shouldn't affect your ability to live, work, and pay taxes in the United States. Your children may be eligible for a streamlined citizenship process if born in the US, or you may simply want them to remain foreign-born Cuban citizens who have been granted lawful permanent residency in the US.
What effects will the re-opening of embassies and lifting of embargoes have on Cuban citizens wanting to immigrate to America?
Some have worried that now that Cuba and the US are on friendlier terms, legally immigrating from Cuba may be tougher. However, is unlikely that this decision will drastically change current immigration laws. Although many of these laws are "Cuban-friendly" due to the government's desire to facilitate citizens' escape from communist governments, without a fundamental change in the function and structure of the Cuban government, it's unlikely that these US laws will be made stricter.
However, opening the borders to free trade and travel may reduce many of the current barriers between your new life in the US and your old life in Cuba. If your spouse or children are still living in Cuba, it will be easier and less expensive for you to arrange for their travel to the US which can help them get started on the residency they'll need to establish before legally becoming a permanent US resident.
Learn more about your options by contacting immigration counseling lawyers. They can help you with the paperwork and fully understanding how your these new legal changes can affect your life.