This file photo shows President Raul Castro of Cuba who came to power after the previous president, his brother Fidel Castro stepped won in 2006. — Photo by Reuters

HAVANA: Cuban citizens will no longer require an exit permit for foreign travel from January 14, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, the latest in a trickle of reforms enacted on the communist-ruled island.

The government has also extended the period its citizens are allowed to remain abroad from 11 to 24 months.

The new law is set to enter into force 90 days from now, the ministry said in a statement.

Cuba has imposed stringent travel restrictions for a half-century but has failed to prevent thousands of its citizens from emigrating illegally each year, sometimes in dangerous sea voyages using rickety boats.

Since 1966, the US government has granted Cubans automatic residence if they can reach the United States.

To travel abroad legally, Cubans have had to provide letters of invitation and obtain permits valid for 30 days. The permits can be extended 10 times, after which the traveller must return to Cuba or lose the right to reside there.

The complicated bureaucratic process for getting the required visas and permits often includes different fees that make travel abroad unaffordable for many Cubans, whose average monthly salary is less than $20.

Nevertheless, more than 30,000 Cubans immigrate legally each year.

Cuban President Raul Castro announced last year that the government was planning immigration reforms that would be introduced gradually.

The president has pressed for economic reforms over the past two years aimed at upgrading Cuba's state-dominated economy while maintaining one-party rule.

Raul Castro assumed power in 2006 when his aging brother Fidel stepped down after ruling the island nation for nearly five decades.

The regime has been in crisis since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, once its biggest patron.

The nation of 11.2 million today relies heavily on the leftist government of oil-rich Venezuela for support.

Updated Oct 16, 2012 07:07am

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