December 10, 2015

Cuban immigration to U.S. surges as relations warm

Sharp increase in the number of Cubans entering the U.S.The number of Cubans who have entered the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Obama last year announced a renewal of ties with the island nation, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data has found. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Havana, a move supported by a large majority of Americans, and public support is growing for ending the trade embargo with Cuba.

Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. may receive special treatment under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Those hoping to live in the U.S. legally need only show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, which includes a check of criminal and immigration history in the U.S. After a year in the country, they may apply for legal permanent residence.

Overall, 43,159 Cubans entered the U.S. via ports of entry in fiscal year 2015, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained through a public records request. This represents a 78% increase over the previous year, when 24,278 Cubans entered. And those 2013 numbers had already increased dramatically after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions. By comparison, in fiscal 2011, just 7,759 Cubans came into the U.S.

Number of Cubans entering the U.S. on the riseThe spike in the number of Cubans entering the country came in the months immediately following the president’s announcement. From January to March 2015, 9,900 Cubans entered, more than double the 4,746 who arrived during the same time period in 2014.

Thousands of Cubans have migrated to the U.S. by land. Many fly to Ecuador because of the country’s liberal immigration policies, then travel north through Central America and Mexico. The majority of Cubans who entered the country arrived through the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector in Texas, which borders Mexico. In fiscal 2015, two-thirds (28,371) of all Cubans came through this sector, an 82% increase from the previous fiscal year.

However, a larger percentage increase occurred in the Miami sector, which operates in several states, but primarily in Florida. The number of Cubans who entered in the Miami sector during fiscal 2015 more than doubled from the previous year, from 4,709 to 9,999.

Not all Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. make it. Under current U.S. policy, Cubans caught trying to reach the U.S. by sea are returned to Cuba or, if they cite fear of prosecution, to a third country. In fiscal 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended 3,505 Cubans at sea, the highest number of any country. The total exceeds the 2,111 Cubans apprehended in fiscal 2014. There are 2 million Hispanics of Cuban ancestry living in the U.S. today, but the population growth for this group is now being driven by Cuban Americans born in the U.S. rather than the arrival of new immigrants. Nevertheless, the majority (57%) of the group remains foreign born; this share has declined from 68% in 2000, despite the recent influx in Cubans entering the U.S.

Note: This post was originally published on Oct. 7 and has been updated.  

Topics: Bilateral Relations, Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Immigration, Immigration Trends, Latin America, Migration

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. John9 months ago

    It would be interesting to see the numbers of legal Cuban migrants stacked on top of those figures as well. Since there is already an agreement for legal migration between the to two nations.

  2. Ed9 months ago

    What exactly is the author of the article referring to when he/she writes “Cubans caught trying to reach the U.S. by sea are returned to Cuba or,if they cite fear of prosecution, to a third country.” What is/are the countrie(s) they are sent to?