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U.S. boosts embassy personnel in Cuba

Though some visas will now be processed in Havana, the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, will still be the primary location.
Image: The United States embassy in Havana on March 3, 2022.
The U.S. Embassy in Havana. Amanda Perobelli / Reuters

The United States announced it will increase its staff at its embassy in Havana and begin a limited amount of some immigrant visa services after years of operating with few personnel.

The announcement was made during a press conference in Havana on Thursday by the U.S. Embassy's top diplomat, Timothy Zuñiga-Brown.

The U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, will continue being the primary location for processing visas.

The Trump administration cut embassy staff in 2017 following unexplained health incidents known as the “Havana Syndrome” that affected personnel and their families. A very limited staff has been in place since then, impacting the embassy’s ability to process visas.

Visa processing was transferred to Guyana. But for most Cubans, the cost of traveling to another country for visas is exorbitant. Cuba is among the top 10 countries with the highest number of people on the family sponsored immigration waiting list, with almost 91,000.

There has also been an increase in Cuban migrants coming to the U.S. There have been more than 30,000 during fiscal year 2022, which ends in October, compared to 39,000 the year before, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

The drawdown in the embassy staff was among multiple actions then-President Donald Trump took to roll back former President Barack Obama’s historic thawing of relations with the communist-run island.

This is the first move President Joe Biden has taken to reverse any of the former administration's measures regarding Cuba; the current policies have been under review for over a year. Biden had campaigned on easing some of Trump’s measures in areas such as travel and remittances. Instead, the Biden administration sanctioned more Cuban entities and individuals over the Cuban government's response to the historic protests last July.

Cuba has not had any recent cases of “Havana syndrome.” Canada, whose embassy workers were affected by the unexplained illnesses as well, also cut its staff by half, though it is still offering consular services.

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