January 13, 2017

Surge in Cuban immigration to U.S. continued through 2016

The number of Cubans entering the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Barack Obama announced a renewal of ties with the island nation in late 2014, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data shows. 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.

On Thursday, the White House announced its latest step in policy toward Cuba by ending a long-standing policy that treated Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. differently from other immigrants. Under the old policy, Cubans hoping to legally live in the U.S. needed only to show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, which included a check of criminal and immigration history in the U.S. After a year in the country, they were allowed to apply for legal permanent residence. The new policy makes Cubans who attempt to enter the U.S. without a visa subject to removal, whether they arrive by sea or port of entry.

Overall, 56,406 Cubans entered the U.S. via ports of entry in fiscal year 2016, up 31% from fiscal 2015 when 43,159 Cubans entered the same way, according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Fiscal 2015 saw an even larger surge, as Cuban entries jumped 78% over 2014, when 24,278 Cubans entered the U.S. And those 2014 numbers had already increased dramatically from previous years after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions that year.

The recent rise in the number of Cubans entering the country began in the months immediately following Obama’s December 2014 announcement that the U.S. would renew ties with Cuba. From January to March 2015, 9,900 Cubans entered the U.S. via a port of entry, more than double the 4,746 who arrived during the same time period in 2014. The increase continued into fiscal 2016 and peaked in the first quarter of that fiscal year (October to December 2015), when 17,057 Cubans entered the U.S. via a port of entry, an increase of 85% compared with the same quarter of fiscal 2015.

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 closed 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 have entered the United States by land in recent years 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 entering the U.S. came through this sector, an 82% increase from the previous fiscal year. In fiscal 2016, the Laredo Sector continued to receive the majority (64%) of Cuban migrants entering the U.S. through a port of entry. Fiscal 2016 also saw a major spike in El Paso, where 5,179 Cubans entered, up from only 698 Cubans in fiscal 2015.

Since 2014, a large percentage increase has also occurred in the Miami sector, which covers several states but is 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, and this number rose again (to 10,992) in fiscal 2016.

Not all Cubans who attempted to enter the U.S. made it. Under previous U.S. policy, Cubans caught trying to reach the U.S. by sea were returned to Cuba or, if they cited fear of prosecution, to a third country. In fiscal 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended 5,263 Cubans at sea, the highest number of any country. The total exceeds the 3,505 Cubans apprehended in fiscal 2015.

There are 2 million Hispanics of Cuban ancestry living in the U.S. today, the fourth largest Hispanic origin group behind Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans. But population growth for this group is now being driven by Cuban Americans born in the U.S. The share of foreign born among Cubans in the U.S. declined from 68% in 2000 to 57% as of 2015.

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on Oct. 7, 2015.

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

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

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


  1. Anonymous12 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. Anonymous12 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. Anonymous12 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. Anonymous12 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. John2 years 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. Ed2 years 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?