The State Department has announced a plan for issuing visas to Cuban citizens while the service is suspended at the U.S. Embassy in Havana over mysterious "health attacks" against American diplomats.
Here's how it will work, according to an e-mail from the State Department in response to a query from the Tampa Bay Times:
"In the coming weeks, we will begin transferring current immigrant visa applications and scheduling immigrant visa interviews for Cuban nationals at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia."
Applicants must be physically present.
"Cuban applicants for nonimmigrant visas may apply at any U.S. embassy or consulate overseas, but must be physically present in the country at the time of the application," according to the statement.
"The only nonimmigrant visa applications at the U.S. embassy in Havana will be able to process are those for diplomatic or official visas or extremely rare emergency cases in when the applicant has a life-threatening illness requiring treatment in the United States.
"We understand this is a significant change and an inconvenience for visa applicants. The number of consular personnel in Cuba at this time, however, does not allow us to continue normal visa operations in Havana."
Citing concerns about mysterious health problems among American diplomats, including brain injury and hearing loss, the State Department ordered home more than half the personnel at its newly re-established embassy in Havana.
"Due to the drawdown in staffing, we have suspended almost all visa processing in Havana," the State Department said. "Staff remaining in Havana will carry out core diplomatic and consular functions, including providing emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Cuba."
The United States has been providing 20,000 visas a year to Cuban immigrants.
The Tampa Bay area is home to the nation's third largest Cuban-American population.
Contact Paul Guzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.