Cuban nationals lose preferential treatment with the end of the \”wet foot, dry foot\” policy

January 17, 2017

– Archive

Back to Blog



On January 12, 2017, the President ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban migrants, meaning that DHS will no longer grant parole to Cubans based solely on their nationality – thus limiting the number of Cubans who will be eligible for adjustment under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Cuban Adjustment Act, as a law, is not affected by this decision. The Act allows Cuban nationals to become lawful permanent residents if the person (1) was inspected and admitted or paroled (2) physically present in the U.S. for at least one year, and (3) is otherwise admissible).

Further, Cubans may now be subject to expedited removal if they attempt to enter the United States without inspection or without valid entry permits. Note that the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program has not ended, so beneficiaries of certain approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions to travel to the United States before their immigrant visas become available, rather than remain in Cuba to await a visa.

The end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy is not retroactive. Generally speaking, Cuban nationals with final orders, or adjustment of status pending, on orders of supervision will not be negatively affected; however, a Cuban national who has committed a new crime or has some negative issue outside of this migration policy could be subject to enforcement action on other grounds that have nothing to do with this new policy. Cubans with currently on orders of supervision are not affected by this new policy and should continue reporting on the order of supervision if nothing has changed for them personally.

DHS has not clarified what is the effective date trigger. It is not yet clear whether date of entry is the operative act, or the date of the “encounter” with DHS. (If the latter, then more Cubans will be affected as those who have entered the US but not encountered DHS will not benefit under the old “wet foot, dry foot” policy). Further, it is not known whether the new administration will make any change to the Obama Administration\’s new policy.

For more detailed information, see this commentary by Doris Meissner, former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton administration and involved in the negotiation and implementation of “wet foot, dry foot” policy:

  • The policy change ends the automatic parole into the United States of Cubans presenting themselves at or between land ports of entry. Cubans who reach U.S. soil are now to be treated the same as all other migrants who arrive without prior authorization. Fuller details on how the new regime will work in actual practice have not yet been detailed. However, they are likely to involve using expedited removal procedures at the borders or granting a credible-fear interview to those who assert a claim for political asylum. Those found to have a possible claim or other grounds for relief would be admitted to the United States pending a hearing in immigration court. Those who do not assert a claim for asylum would be placed in expedited or regular removal proceedings.
  • At the heart of the change is Cuba’s agreement to accept the return of its nationals who seek entry to the United States but are ineligible to remain. For decades, Cuba has refused to take back its nationals who have been ordered deported. At the same time . . . special legislation . . . [means] Cubans who arrive in the United States are eligible for legal permanent residence (getting a green card) one year after arrival. Under a separate 1980 law, certain Cubans are also eligible for welfare benefits similar to refugees. No other nationality group has such preferential or immediate access to green cards and welfare benefits, which include financial support, medical benefits, and other assistance.
  • Cuban arrivals . . . have nearly doubled since fiscal year (FY) 2014, rising from 25,338 to more than 48,500 as of July 2016.
  • The United States is ending Cuban Medical Professional Parole.
  • Cuba has also agreed to consider on a case-by-case basis the return of Cuban nationals who were found removable before January 12, 2017. Media reports suggest that as many as 34,000 Cubans with final orders of removal remain in the United States.
  • Finally, several other aspects of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuban migration accords remain in place. Key among them are in-country refugee processing, the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, and the assurance that at least 20,000 Cubans will be legally admitted from Cuba annually.

More information available at:

Seven things you need to know about “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” (Univision)

DHS Fact Sheet

  • DHS has eliminated a special parole policy for arriving Cuban nationals commonly known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy . . . It is now Department policy to consider any requests for such parole in the same manner as parole requests filed by nationals of other countries.
  • DHS is also eliminating an exemption that previously prevented the use of expedited removal proceedings for Cuban nationals apprehended at ports of entry or near the border.

Statement by the President on Cuban Immigration Policy

  • DHS “is ending the so-called \”wet-foot/dry foot\” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”

Statement by Secretary Johnson on the Continued Normalization of our Migration Relationship with Cuba

  • “Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to illegally enter the United States will be subject to removal, consistent with our enforcement priorities. The United States is also ending the special Cuban Medical Professional Parole program.”
  • “Though the Cuban Adjustment Act and certain Cuban laws remain in effect, today’s announcement goes a long way to putting our relationship with Cuba on equal terms with our relationships with other neighbors.”

Joint Cuban and American Statement

  • “From the date of this Joint Statement, the United States of America, consistent with its laws and international norms, shall return to the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of Cuba, consistent with its laws and international norms, shall receive back all Cuban nationals who after the signing of this Joint Statement are found by the competent authorities of the United States to have tried to irregularly enter or remain in that country in violation of United States law”
  • “The United States of America shall continue ensuring legal migration from the Republic of Cuba with a minimum of 20,000 persons annually.”

Information on the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (which remains in effect), including details on how to apply, can be found on this USCIS website.


Scroll to Top