Church raises concerns over Cuba's visa reforms

A spokesman for the Catholic church in Cuba raised concerns Friday that reforms making traveling easier for Cubans could lead to population declines in vital age groups.

The new law, allowing Cubans to go abroad without special exit visas for the first time since 1961, took affect in mid-January and has allowed many, including prominent dissidents, to apply for passports and make international travel plans.

Father Jose Felix Perez, spokesman of the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he felt the reform was "good in and of itself itself."

"There has been no official statement" from the Church leadership, he said, but "I can personally say (the Church) officially appreciates the right of Cubans to travel."

Emigration "may be a relief for the economic situation" of Cuban families, he added, referring to the money foreign residents often send to their families back home.

But speaking at a press conference, Perez said he has some concerns.

"Most of those who are emigrating are young and are professionals," he noted.

Moreover, Cuba "has a very low birth rate," and those who are leaving tend to be at the age when they'd have children.

If they go, "what will the population structure be like in five or ten years?" he asked.

With Cuba's low birth rate and nearly 40,000 people moving away each year, the Caribbean nation finished 2012 with 84,000 fewer inhabitants than the year before, according to a census.

There are currently 11.1 million residents, the census said.