HAVANA- Effective from midnight local time on January 14, thanks to a new reform by the Cuban government, Cuban citizens are now allowed to apply for passports, without having to apply for special exit visas.

[Photo: Rindo75 via Wikipedia]

First announced in October, these new regulations include an extended period for visitors to the country – increasing from 60 days to 90. The passport, a basic document for many people around the world, will be valid for two years and can be renewable for up to six. Another novelty, according to EFE, is that Cubans will be allowed to stay abroad for 11-24 months without having to apply for any extensions.

Cuban daily Granma reports that the measures were taken not because of any pressure, but to deal with the state of the economy, as well as the current migration situation. The newspaper's editorial writes: "The new immigration measures announced by the sovereign state of Cuba doesn't constitute an isolated event, but comes with the irreversible normalization between emigration and the homeland."

Prensa Latina writes that the Cuban government has also decided to allow the temporary return of those who emigrated illegally after the 1994 migration accord with the USA and who lost their Cuban citizenship after eight years abroad. Since the 1994 accord, 20,000 non-migrant visas have been granted annually to Cubans.

Doctors and professional athletes who have left for more than eight years will also be able to return in a bid to avoid the "brain drain," with the exception of those who present a risk to Defense or National Security or who had escaped the country through the U.S. Naval Base of Guantánamo.

A problem that will affect this reform is the price of the passport. In a country where the average monthly salary is equivalent to $20, the passport will cost an estimated $100.

Approximately, 1.4 million Cubans live abroad – 85.7% in the United States, the majority in Florida.