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U.S. immigration policy complicates health cooperation with Cuba

HAVANA, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. immigration policy towards Cuba complicates the bilateral health cooperation, a top Cuban official said in an interview published Tuesday.

Cuba and the United States are set to hold high-level talks at the beginning of 2016 to promote cooperation in health matters, Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's head of U.S. affairs, told the Cuban News Agency (ACN).

However, the U.S. maintains a special immigration strategy designed to lure Cuban doctors to defect to the United States, thus undermining cooperation.

The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, launched by the U.S. in 2006, generates damage to the Cuban government which invests heavily in doctors' education and often sends medical professionals abroad to bring in much-needed revenue, and to the Cuban people who need medical attention, Vidal said.

"At the beginning of this year we expect high-level meetings between the Health Ministry of Cuba and the Department of Health and Human Resources of the United States to outline cooperation measures," Vidal told ACN.

When asked about the contradiction between the meetings and the policy, Vidal said, "they know it and we permanently remind them. It contradicts not only this specific aspect of cooperation, but the whole bilateral climate that Washington is supposedly interested in promoting with Cuba."

To forestall a potential shortage of medical professionals, the Cuban government said on Dec. 1, 2015 that it was reinstating a travel restriction on doctors, surgeons and other healthcare workers.

Cuban medical professionals who want to travel abroad must now first apply for a permit from the Health Ministry.

"Faced with the need to ensure our people enjoy efficient and quality healthcare, as well as mitigate the negative effects of the United States' selective and politicized immigration policy towards Cuba, and the increasing random hiring of Cuban doctors in other countries, we have decided to apply the regulations," the government said.

An exodus of "vital medical personnel", such as surgeons, anesthesiologists and cardiologists, has "seriously affected" those specialties, the government added.

To bring the U.S. immigration policy in line with the new foreign policy towards Cuba, President Barack Obama should use his executive powers to scrap the program, said Vidal.

"He can announce an end to this unjust policy," said Vidal. "In the current context, the parole program is outdated."

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