How does defecting from a country work?

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I know a lot of baseball players defect from Cuba to play in the MLB but what exactly is the process? Obviously you have to find a way out of the country but what happens once you reach the new country? Are you just able to get residency? Do you claim asylum or something?

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Depends where you are coming from and going to as well as your exact situation. Asylum is for people who are escaping a very dangerous situation and you are asking the place you are going to protect you from that. Refugee is for someone escaping a place that is unlivable from war or something. Most often you will see these people needing to citizenship to stay long term however.

It depends on the country you arrive in. You can apply for asylum but this requires that you prove you are being persecuted in your country of origin. This process can usually be quite hard. Most of these people are the subject of ethnic, religious or political cleansing. So someone like a baseball player would likely not be able to claim asylum. But there is a number of different types of visas and work permits that people can apply for. This often require you to be able to show that you have money for your own stay or have someone sponsor your visa for you. This is probably the best way for a baseball player to do it as they can get an MLB team to say to the immigration authorities that they are willing to pay them to play in the US and they will get their visa and work permit. There is also a process of becoming a citizen as well but this can also be quite long.

Cuba is/was a special case in the asylum process.

Up until 2017-ish the US had a process on the books where any Cuban who was opposed to their government could legally immigrate to the US if they could physically make it here.

Defecting is different from immigration or asylum in that the is some strategic or political benefit to the country being defected to, and probably some downside to the country the defector is leaving.

In your baseball player example, Cuba loses face because a high profile player clearly doesn’t want to live there. While America gains publicity implying it is so much a better place than Cuba.

Other examples of defecting may include a secret agent switching sides, a scientist bringing nuclear secrets to another country, or a politician taking refuse in a formal rival country. Since each case of defection is fairly unique, it isn’t appropriate to apply just one standard defecting procedure to all of them. Most often the terms of defection are negotiated with the receiving country on a case by case basis.