HAVANA, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Cuba has lifted a stifling travel ban critics said punished citizens and kept families apart, travel officials for the Communist island nation said.
Gone are the bureaucratic nightmares of exit visas tightly controlled by the government and notarized letters authorizing their visit by the host country. Now all Cubans will need is a valid passport, a travel visa from the country they're visiting and a ticket to travel.
Perhaps the biggest immediate destination: South Florida, where relatives who escaped the Communist country reside. Though Cuban travel experts question how many people will actually be able to afford to pay airfare to the United States, U.S. State Department officials lauded Cuba's new policy, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.
"The United States welcomes any reforms that allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely," said Will Ostick, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Another State Department spokeswoman said it's too early to tell if the new policy will lead to greater reforms or more permanent migration from Cuba to the United States. The State Department said it will not increase the number of non-migrant visas issued to Cuban nationals.
"We cannot predict if the change in exit visa requirements will lead to a change in migration patterns from Cuba,'' said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland at Friday's State Department briefing. "We continue to encourage people not to risk their lives by undertaking dangerous sea journeys, and we note that most countries still require that Cuban citizens have entry visas.''