The Obama administration is ending a policy that granted residency to Cubans who arrived in the US without visas, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, citing a senior administration official.
The change in the policy, known as "wet foot, dry foot," is effective immediately, the official told the AP.
The US and Cuba have spent several months negotiating the change, including an agreement from Cuba to allow those turned away from the US to return, the official said, according to AP.
The shift in policy comes just days before Obama leaves office, and it is likely the last major change he will make to his overhaul of US-Cuba relations.
As the rapproachment between the US and Cuba has progressed over the last two years, a wave of migrants have left the island, many of them concerned that preferential immigration policies for Cubans arriving the US would end with a new era of engagement between Washington and Havana.
The policy has been criticized for giving preferential treatment to Cuban migrants while excluding others, particularly Central American migrants, who are also fleeing hardship and violence.
"The Obama Administration has taken a positive step toward a more sensible Cuban immigration policy, one that ends preferential treatment for Cubans compared with others who arrive without visas," Washington Office on Latin America program director Geoff Thale said in a statement after the announcement.
"This change 'normalizes' our treatment of Cuban immigrants," Thale added in the statement.
(Writing for Reuters by Eric Beech; editing by Eric Walsh)
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