August 5, 2016

Surge in Cuban immigration to U.S. continues into 2016

The number of Cubans who have entered the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Obama announced  a renewal of ties with the island nation in late 2014, 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 different treatment than other immigrants under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Cubans 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.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2016, 46,635 Cubans have entered the U.S. via ports of entry – already surpassing full fiscal year 2015’s total of 43,159, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained through a public records request. Fiscal 2015 was a surge year and was up 78% over 2014, when 24,278 Cubans entered the U.S. And those 2014 numbers had already increased dramatically after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions that year. These totals are significantly higher than in all of fiscal 2011, when 7,759 Cubans came into the U.S. 

The surge in the number of Cubans entering the country began in the months immediately following the president’s announcement. From January to March 2015, 9,900 Cubans entered the U.S., more than double the 4,746 who arrived during the same time period in 2014. The surge continued into fiscal 2016 and peaked in the first quarter (October to December 2015), when 16,444 Cubans entered the U.S., an increase of 78% compared with the same quarter of fiscal 2015. The number of Cubans entering the U.S. has ebbed somewhat since.

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. However, as some Central American countries have close their borders to the flow, this route has grown more difficult to travel, and a number of Cuban immigrants have been stranded on their way to the U.S.

The majority of Cubans who entered the United States by land 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. So far in fiscal 2016, the Laredo Sector has continued to receive the majority (64%) of Cuban migrants entering the U.S. through a port of entry. Fiscal 2016 also has seen a spike in land arrivals in El Paso from Cuba, where 4,810 have entered in the first 10 months. In full fiscal 2015, only 698 Cubans entered through El Paso.

Since 2014, a large percentage increase has 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. In the first 10 months of fiscal 2016, 8,960 Cubans have entered through the Miami sector.

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, the third largest Hispanic origin group behind Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. But 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 is 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, 2015, 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. Anonymous4 months ago

    Donald Trump has been saying that the Cuban Adjustment Act is unfair because he doesn’t see how one group of Hispanics could be treated differently from others. His stance against illegal immigration and his self-consciousness about the fact that Fidel Castro sent criminals and mentally ill people to the US as part of the Mariel boatlift suggests that if elected, he will the first president to recognize that the Cuban Adjustment Act is outdated and should be either repealed or modified to apply to Cubans who have a track record of political persecution.

  2. Anonymous4 months ago

    The president has a responsibility to resolve this dispute to the benefit of the American people. Or we will attribute the election of President Trump to President Obama.

  3. Anonymous4 months ago


    I am of Cuban descent and a proud American Citizen living in the U.S. since the cold war era. My family arrived in 1968 without a cent in our pockets, we worked hard to achieve the American dream by paying taxes, getting a college education and contributing to the success of this country (like any other member of this great melting pot).

    The laws that are in place are no longer equal to those during the cold war era. What needs to happen is to get rid of this outdated law and stop giving free payouts to everyone. When I say stop giving payouts, I mean everyone, not only non-citizens and citizens who are not giving back to the wellbeing of this country. Let’s get rid of corruption in the welfare system, food stamps, let’s save our social security by raising the 118,000 ceiling and bring in the wealthy. We are the richest country in the world and our citizens should never have to worry about medicine or healthcare for anyone who is over 50 years of age.

    I am proud however, and you can confirm this, the Cuban’s who came to this country during the Cold War and shortly before and after have contributed to this country above and beyond. We have integrated to make our society a better one. Why is it that we have two senators running for President and many other have held fortune 500 CEO positions, Generals in the military and high ranking officials in Washington.

    Thank You and God Bless America.

  4. Anonymous4 months ago

    Cubans caught on land do not get sent back the get welfare they go back to Cuba and collect their welfare checks all on the U.S Dime ! Clinton wants to treat illegal aliens crossing the border the same way as Cuba and give them welfare, Obama Care and lawyers costing Trillions paid by the U.S taxpayer

  5. John1 year 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.

  6. Ed1 year 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?