1 trends and patterns of migration to and from caribbean countries

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Elizabeth Thomas-Hope1


Migration has become deeply embedded in the psyche of Caribbean peoples over the past century and a half. It has evolved as the main avenue for upward mobility through the accumulation of capital – financial and social. Thus the propensity for migration is high and there is a general responsiveness to the opportunities for moving whenever they occur. At times these opportunities have come from within the region itself or the wider circum-Caribbean region, as in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; in more recent times from North America and Europe.

The migration dynamic reflects the interplay of international, national and highly personal circumstances. Global changes affect the international economic order and the division of labour and, as a consequence, legislative controls and inducements to the movement of labour across selective national borders. At the national level, economic, social, demographic and political factors influence the variable access of people to economic rewards and social opportunities. But migration is not a passive reaction to internal ‘pushes’ and external ‘pulls’. Within this wider international and national context, migration is part of a dynamic set of negotiations at all levels. For whether ‘free’ movement or refugee, there is a selective process that operates at the interface of the needs of the immigration country on the one hand and the potential for migration in the emigration country on the other. Besides, these are complex and not solely determined by simple economic forces. Pressure, based on the social and political implications of the migration, is sometimes greater than the need for labour in the economy. Within the sending country, there are pressures from high propensity migrants to seek migration opportunities; yet their departure in large numbers is likely to create deficits in the reservoir of human resources with potential negative implications for national development. There are, therefore, a number of conflicts of interest within both receiving countries and sending countries at the national and local levels between the costs and benefits of migration.
The compromise between these conflicts in the receiving country is manifest in the immigration regulations and recruitment drives that emerge. The compromise in the sending countries is reflected in the system of obligations, responsibilities and expectations that the migrants and non-migrants establish. The sending country has a relatively poor negotiating position at the national level, even though, in many instances, the labour force and other recruits (such as students) are highly valuable at the destination. Only in the contract labour schemes has the Jamaican government, for example, been able to enforce a requirement of saving and foreign currency remittance. By and large the sending country has simply to accept the spontaneous benefits that accrue through migration. It is in this regard that policy should focus upon the development of mechanisms to channel the benefits into national productivity so that as much as possible value-added may be derived.

Types of Caribbean Migration
Caribbean migration reflects variations on the basis of the purpose for the movement –work, education, accompanying persons - combined with length of stay at the destination – long-term or short-term. It is difficult to establish rigid time-frames for what constitutes a long-stay migrant and there are many variations in all these migration activities that characterize the pattern of the overall movement. However, a classification would include the following general types of migration: long-stay residence (for work, study or as accompanying persons); short-stay (including contract labour/guest worker schemes); return migration.
A single migrant may engage in all three of these types of migration in his or her life-time and certainly a single household may have members engaged in any combination of types at the same time. Further, even migrations that are long-term do not necessarily reflect a total displacement of the migrants from their household and community but rather, the establishment of a transnational set of interactions and linkages that are associated with movements of people, money and goods and ideas in support of the expectations and obligations of the transnational household or family (Schiller et al, 1995; Thomas-Hope, 1986, 1988, 1992). The various types of migration are therefore incorporated into intra-regional, extra-regional and return migration, around which Caribbean migration trends and patterns are here discussed.
In addition, there is considerable circulation of people that is not recorded either in the censuses or in any systematic way through other types of migration statistics. It is an important form of mobility that includes legal, informal commercial activities of various kinds, as well as organized trafficking in drugs and people. This type of population movement is outside of the scope of the present paper so is not elaborated upon here. However, it is important to note that they are not only significant in their societal impact in both source and destination countries but that they are also part of the wider phenomenon of population movement, directly or indirectly associated with the international networks established by the formal migration process.


Circularity in the pattern of movement and the complexity of who constitutes a migrant or what constitutes migration make the collection of, and consistency in the data difficult. The immigrant stock determined from population census statistics may record documented migrants involved in any one of these types of movement, though they principally record those that are long-stay residents.
Despite the difficulties in capturing all aspects of migration in official data, the CARICOM 1991 Census for Population and Housing (CCPHC) provides migration data for much of the region, excepting the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. There are also no intra-regional migration data for Haiti. Data for extra-regional movements are compiled by the respective destination countries. These data do not include those national groups that, due to their citizenship, require no visas for entry. For example, people from the French Antilles moving to France, British Commonwealth migrants to Britain, and Puerto Ricans to the United States.

On the basis of the 1991 CARICOM Census, the figure for the total migration stock or numbers of persons living in the region other than in their country of nationality, was 104,669. (The data excludes Jamaica, Cayman and the Turks and Caicos Islands). Of this total, Caribbean nationals accounted for the majority, other immigrants were chiefly from the United States and Canada, United Kingdom and India. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago, 25.5% of the non-national population were from outside the Caribbean. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the non-Caribbean migrants accounted for 27.6% of the migrant stock, for the British Virgin Islands, the figure was 27.5% and Antigua 32.7%. In the Bahamas, less than a quarter of the migrant stock was comprised of Caribbean nationals, the greater proportion (76%) having come from outside the region, chiefly North America and Europe. (Table 1).

The Caribbean countries with the largest concentrations of immigrants are Trinidad & Tobago, with 35.4 % of the total stock of Caribbean migrants in the region, the U.S. Virgin Islands with 22.2 %; and Barbados with 12.3 %. Antigua and Barbuda with 7.9%; and the British Virgin Islands with 5.5 % (Table 2). It is evident that the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and even Antigua are strongly supported by a high immigrant population, representing a heavy reliance on a non-national labour force.
The Caribbean countries representing the major sources of intra-regional migrants are Grenada, St Vincent and Guyana. The rate of emigration (calculated from the numbers of emigrants relative to the total population) gives an indication of the impact upon the sending countries. The out-migration rate was 19.1 for Grenada, 15.1 for St. Vincent relative to their population (1990). Emigrants from Guyana were third in the rank of intra-regional migrants but this represented a rate of only 1.9 in relation to Guyana’s population, whereas the British Virgin Islands, contributing only 5,812 intra-regional migrants had an out-migration rate of 26.8. (Table 2).
With few exceptions, notably Antigua, the countries with the highest immigration rates are not those with the highest emigration rates, though it should be pointed out that the situation is highly dynamic. There are the possibilities of change in the migration pattern, depending upon any emerging foci of growth in any specific economic sector and the attendant need for an increased workforce of a particular type. An additional factor that underlines the migration dynamic is that any major environmental hazard could lead to out-migration. This is exemplified by the situation in Montserrat. The migration pattern changed dramatically in the second half of the 1990s due to the volcanic eruptions. In 1990, this island had an immigration rate of 13.7 and emigration rate of 18.6. Currently, although data are not available, it is known that the immigration has virtually ceased and the emigration rate has increased significantly.

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