The difference is that today’s repatriates are not coming back for socialism. They are coming back as capitalists. Which is to say, they are returning as trailblazing entrepreneurs. Prompted by President Raúl Castro’s limited opening to small business and his 2011 move allowing Cubans to buy and sell real estate, the repatriates are using money saved abroad to acquire property and open private restaurants, guesthouses, spas and retail shops.
Cuban authorities said they could not provide up-to-date statistics, but in 2012, immigration officials said they were processing about 1,000 repatriation applications each year. The numbers appear to have increased since then, at least judging from anecdotal evidence and the proliferation of new small businesses in Havana run by returnees.
Communist authorities no longer stigmatize such Cubans or view them as ideologically suspicious, provided they’re not coming back as anti-government activists. Virtually all Cubans who emigrated are eligible for repatriation unless they are deemed to have committed “hostile acts against the state.”
Returnees say the paperwork takes about six months to process.