- As part of a continued effort to improve relations with Cuba, the U.S. government is reviewing the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which incentivizes Cuban doctors and nurses to defect overseas with assitance at U.S. embassies, Reuters reported.
- Since the program started in 2006, the U.S. has approved 7,117 visa requests for Cuban medical professionals to go abroad on missions of mercy or raise money for the Communist government. Applications reached a record 1,663 in fiscal year 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- While the program has served as a revenue-generator for the Cuban government, Reuters reports Cuba called it a "reprehensible practice" designed to "deprive Cuba and many other countries of vital human resources."
Last month, restrictions on Cuban doctors that had been lifted in 2013 were re-imposed because the country believes their mass migration has "seriously affected" its universal and free healthcare services, according to Reuters.
The decision on whether the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program will be put to an end was due early this year, a senior administration official said, but the policy change, which requires Cuban doctors to have a special permission to leave the country, complicated the review.
President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 they would pursue normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. Since then, the two governments reached common ground on "environmental protection and the resumption of direct mail service and scheduled commercial airline flights," Reuters reported.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor to President Obama, told Reuters reviewing this program is a key component in the process of improving relations with Cuba.