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Caribbean Immigrants in the United States

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Caribbean Immigrants in the United States

A Jamaican restaurant in Richmond, VA. Almost 19 percent of Caribbean immigrants in the United States are from Jamaica.

In 2009, the United States was home to 3.5 million immigrants from the Caribbean, who accounted for 9 percent of the total foreign-born population. More than 90 percent of these immigrants came from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuban immigrants in particular have been among the top ten foreign-born groups in the United States each decade since 1970.

While the number of Caribbean immigrants in the United States continues to increase, the population's rate of growth has slowed a bit more each decade since 1970, and the share of the foreign born that is from the Caribbean has gradually declined since 1990.

Compared to other immigrant groups, the foreign born from the Caribbean are less likely to be new arrivals, tend to have higher levels of English-language proficiency, and become naturalized U.S. citizens at higher rates. At the same time, Caribbean immigrants are more likely to be older than other immigrant groups and Caribbean men have lower rates of civilian labor force participation.

This Spotlight focuses on Caribbean immigrants residing in the United States and examines the population's size, geographic distribution, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. The data used are the most recent detailed data available and come from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2000 Decennial Census (as well as earlier censuses), and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Size and Geographic Distribution

Methodology
This analysis draws on the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of the Caribbean as of 2009*, which included the following countries:

Anguilla
Antigua & Barbuda
Aruba
the Bahamas
Barbados
the British Virgin Islands
the Cayman Islands
Cuba
Dominica
the Dominican Republic
Grenada
Guadaloupe
Haiti
Jamaica
Martinique
Montserrat
the Netherlands Antilles
St. Barthelemy
St. Kitts-Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands

Some data in this analysis also include persons who specified the West Indies more generally as their place of birth, as well as persons whose birthplace is listed as Caribbean ns/nec (not specified or not elsewhere classified).
* With the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, Curacao and St. Maarten became constituent countries of the Netherlands. They are not listed here separately because the data used for this Spotlight predate the dissolution.

 

Legal and Unauthorized Caribbean Immigrants

Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview

Size and Geographic Distribution

There were about 3.5 million Caribbean immigrants residing in the United States in 2009.
There were 3,465,890 foreign born from the Caribbean residing in the United States in 2009, accounting for 9.0 percent of the country's 38.5 million immigrants.

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The Caribbean-born population in the United States has increased more than 17-fold over the past 50 years.
The number of Caribbean immigrants grew from 193,922 in 1960 to 3.5 million in 2009, representing a more than 17-fold increase. Currently, the foreign born from the Caribbean account for 9.0 percent of the total immigrant population, down from 9.5 percent as a share of the overall foreign born in 2000.

Between 1970 and 2009, immigrants from the Dominican Republic contributed significantly to the rapid growth of the Caribbean-born population and accounted for 26.2 percent of the increase during that time period. Foreign born from Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti also accounted for 20.9 percent, 19.8 percent, and 18.3 percent, respectively, of this growth over the past four decades.

While the size of the Caribbean immigrant population continues to increase, the population's rate of growth has slowed each decade since 1970. The number of Caribbean born in the United States more than tripled from 1960 to 1970, but increased 86.4 percent from 1970 to 1980, 54.0 percent from 1980 to 1990, 52.3 percent from 1990 to 2000, and just 17.4 percent from 2000 to 2009.

 

Table 1. Total and Caribbean Foreign-Born Populations, 1960 to 2009

Year Total foreign born Caribbean born
Number Share of total
1960 9,738,091 193,922 2.0%
1970 9,619,302 675,108 7.0%
1980 14,079,906 1,258,363 8.9%
1990 19,767,316 1,938,348 9.8%
2000 31,107,889 2,953,066 9.5%
2009 38,517,234 3,465,890 9.0%

Source: Data for 2000 from the 2000 Decennial Census; data for 2009 from the American Community Survey 2009. Data for earlier decades from Gibson, Campbell, and Emily Lennon, U.S. Census Bureau, Working Paper No. 29, Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1999. Available online.


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Over 90 percent of Caribbean immigrants were from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.
In 2009, the vast majority of Caribbean immigrants were from Cuba (28.6 percent), the Dominican Republic (22.9 percent), Jamaica (18.8 percent), Haiti (15.5 percent), and Trinidad and Tobago (6.4 percent).

Foreign born from all other Caribbean countries accounted collectively for only 7.8 percent of the Caribbean immigrants in the United States, with no individually reported country accounting for more than 2.0 percent of the overall Caribbean immigrant population. For example, Barbados was the birthplace of 1.4 percent of Caribbean immigrants, followed by Grenada (1.0), the Bahamas (0.9), Dominica (0.9), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (0.5); the share of immigrants born in other Caribbean countries (2.1) and the West Indies (1.0) was also quite small.

In addition to being the largest origin group of all Caribbean immigrants, the foreign born from Cuba were among the top ten foreign-born populations overall in the United States in 2009. Cubans have been among the top ten foreign-born groups each decade since 1970.

Figure 1: Share of Caribbean-born Population by Country of Origin, 2009
Note: Persons from "other Caribbean" countries include those reporting their birthplace as: Antigua-Barbuda, the Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the West Indies, or Caribbean ns/nec (not specified or not elsewhere classified).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey.


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About 69 percent of Caribbean immigrants resided in Florida and New York in 2009.
In 2009, Florida had the largest number of resident Caribbean immigrants with 1,388,014, or 40.0 percent of the total Caribbean-born population in the United States, followed by New York (1,008,134, or 29.1 percent).

Other states with relatively large Caribbean immigrant populations (greater than 65,000) included: New Jersey (253,010, or 7.3 percent), Massachusetts (136,578, or 3.9 percent), Georgia (83,735, or 2.4 percent), Connecticut (78,957, or 2.3 percent), Pennsylvania (77,527, or 2.2 percent), and California (72,251, or 2.1 percent).

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Nearly four of every ten immigrants in Florida were born in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean born made up 39.8 percent of all immigrants residing in Florida in 2009, and 24.1 percent of all immigrants residing in New York. Additionally, more than one in ten immigrants in Connecticut (17.2 percent), Massachusetts (14.5), New Jersey (14.4), and Pennsylvania (11.2) were Caribbean.

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One-third of Caribbean immigrants resided in the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA metropolitan area.
In 2009, 34.2 percent of the Caribbean born in the United States resided in the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA metropolitan area. A significant share of Caribbean immigrants also resided in the metropolitan areas of Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL (30.2 percent) and Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH (3.3 percent).

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There were 6.0 million self-identified members of the Caribbean diaspora residing in the United States in 2009.
Of the 6.0 million self-identified members of the Caribbean diaspora residing in the United States in 2009, 41.0 percent were native born or U.S. citizens at birth and 57.7 percent were born in the Caribbean (excluding individuals born in the Caribbean to at least one U.S.-born parent).

Note: There is no universally recognized definition of the term "diaspora". Most often, the term includes individuals who self-identify as having ancestral ties to a specific country of origin. To calculate the size of the Caribbean diaspora in the United States, we included all immigrants born in the Caribbean (excluding individuals born in the Caribbean to at least one U.S.-born parent) and all individuals who selected a U.S. Census-designated Caribbean country, "Caribbean," or "West Indian" (either alone or in combination with another option) as a response to the two ACS questions on ancestry.

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Legal and Unauthorized Caribbean Immigrants

Caribbean immigrants accounted for roughly 3.2 percent of unauthorized immigrants in 2009.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there were 350,000 unauthorized immigrants from the Caribbean in the United States in March 2009. Caribbean immigrants accounted for about 3.2 percent of the 11.1 million estimated unauthorized immigrants residing in the United States, and approximately one in ten (10.1 percent) of the 3.5 million Caribbean immigrants was unauthorized.

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About 46,000 Haitians reside in the United States under Temporary Protected Status.
The United States provides limited humanitarian protection on a temporary basis – known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – to individuals fleeing unsafe or problematic circumstances in their home countries (or who are already present in the U.S. and cannot return home) but who fail to meet the formal threshold required for refugee or asylum status. The Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of State can issue TPS for a period of six to 18 months and can extend the period if conditions do not change in the country of origin. (Congress is also authorized to grant TPS directly, although it has not done so since 1990.)

TPS was extended to certain Haitian immigrants less than ten days after a massive earthquake shook Haiti in January 2010. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimated that there were 70,000 to 100,000 Haitians in the United States eligible for TPS, though just over 53,000 applied for this form of temporary protection.

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From 2000 to 2009, Caribbean nationals accounted for 6.2 percent of refugee arrivals and 6.6 percent of persons granted asylum.
Between 2000 and 2009, there were 32,838 Caribbean refugee arrivals to the United States, accounting for 6.2 percent of all refugee arrivals during that time frame.

Almost all Caribbean refugee arrivals during this period were from Cuba (99.7 percent), with a small number coming from Haiti (103, or 0.3 percent).

From 2000 to 2009, 6.6 percent of the 286,200 people granted asylum were Caribbean nationals. Of all Caribbeans granted asylum, 94.5 percent were Haitian nationals, about 5 percent were Cuban, and 0.5 percent were Jamaican.

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Almost 1.1 million Caribbean foreign born became lawful permanent residents of the United States between 2000 and 2009.
About 10.7 percent of the 10.3 million immigrants granted lawful permanent residence (i.e., green cards) from 2000 to 2009 were born in the Caribbean.

Just over 146,000 Caribbean born gained lawful permanent residence in 2009 alone, representing 12.9 percent of the 1.1 million immigrants granted green cards in that year. Seven of ten immigrants from the Caribbean who were issued green cards in 2009 obtained them through family relationships, with 46.2 percent as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and 24.6 percent as non-immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or certain specified relatives of legal permanent residents.

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Caribbean immigrants as a whole were significantly more likely than some other immigrant groups to become naturalized U.S. citizens.
Among the Caribbean foreign born, 55.4 percent were naturalized U.S. citizens, compared with 43.7 percent of the overall foreign-born population.

At 70.9 percent, Barbadian immigrants had the highest rate of naturalization among all Caribbean groups, while the foreign born from Dominica had the lowest rate (44.8 percent). Naturalization rates for the foreign born from Jamaica (62.4 percent), Cuba (58.3 percent), and Trinidad and Tobago (57.4 percent) were higher than those for the overall Caribbean immigrant population, while the rates for Haitians (50.3 percent) and Dominicans (47.6 percent) were lower.

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Demographic and Socioeconomic Overview

Almost three-quarters of Caribbean immigrants entered the United States between 1980 and 1999.
As of 2009, 25.4 percent of the 3.5 million Caribbean foreign born had entered the country between 2000 and 2009, 25.7 had entered between 1990 and 1999, and 22.0 percent had entered between 1980 and 1989. For the remainder of the population, 12.5 percent entered between 1970 and 1979 and 14.3 percent prior to 1970.

Caribbean immigrants were less likely to be recent arrivals than the overall foreign-born population and more likely to have arrived in the United States prior to 1990. Overall, 31.6 percent of the United States' 38.5 million foreign born entered the country in 2000 or later, with 27.9 percent entering between 1990 and 1999 and 19.6 percent entering between 1980 and 1989. Eleven percent of all foreign born entered between 1970 and 1979, and only 9.9 percent prior to 1970.

Among the Caribbean born, some groups have been in the United States longer than others. For example, Cubans were the most likely of all Caribbean immigrants to have arrived prior to 1970. In fact, 29.3 percent of Cubans arrived during this time period, compared with 8.2 percent of Jamaicans, 7.2 percent of Dominicans, and 6.7 percent of Haitians.

Conversely, Haitians tended to be newer immigrants, with arrivals from Haiti peaking from 2000 to 2009 (30.4 percent all Haitian arrivals). Jamaican arrivals peaked during the 1980s (28.2 percent) and arrivals from the Dominican Republic during the 1990s (32.1 percent).

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The foreign born from the Caribbean were more likely than both the foreign born overall and the native born to be 55 years of age or older.
Of all Caribbean immigrants residing in the United States in 2009, 32.3 percent were seniors (age 55 and older), 61.9 percent were adults of working age (between 18 and 54-years-old), and 5.8 percent were youth (under age 18).

Overall, 24.1 percent of the foreign born were seniors, 68.7 percent were of working age, and 7.2 percent were youth. Among the native born, 24.2 percent were seniors, 49.1 percent were of working age, and 26.7 percent were youth.

Among Caribbean immigrants, 45.2 percent of Cubans, 29.2 percent of Jamaicans, 26.1 percent of Haitians, and 23.4 percent of Dominicans were seniors. Nine percent of Haitian immigrants, 8 percent of Dominicans, 5 percent of Cubans, and 4 percent of Jamaicans were under the age of 18.

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Caribbean immigrant women outnumbered men in 2009.
Over half, or 53.7 percent, of Caribbean immigrants residing in the United States in 2009 were women, compared with 50.1 percent among the foreign born overall and 50.8 percent among the native born.

The gender imbalance was more pronounced among immigrants from certain Caribbean countries, for example: Grenada (60.1 percent women), Barbados (58.3 percent women), Trinidad and Tobago (56.1 percent women), the Dominican Republic (55.8 percent women), and Jamaica (55.7 percent women). In the case of Cuba, however, the gender ratio was more even with immigrant men outnumbering women only slightly (50.5 percent men).

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More than half of Caribbean immigrants either spoke only English or spoke English "very well."
In 2009, 33.0 percent of Caribbean immigrants reported speaking only English and 23.9 percent reported speaking English "very well." In contrast, 42.8 percent of Caribbean immigrants were limited English proficient (LEP), meaning they reported speaking English less than "very well." Within this group, 9.7 percent reported that they did not speak English at all, 16.5 percent reported speaking English "well," and 16.7 percent reported speaking English "but not well."

Caribbean immigrants were less likely to be LEP than the foreign-born population overall, of which 51.7 percent reported limited English proficiency in 2009.

Rates of limited English proficiency vary substantially by Caribbean country of origin depending on the languages in use in that country. For example, almost all immigrants from St. Kitts-Nevis (99.5), Grenada (98.7), Trinidad and Tobago (98.5), Jamaica (98.3), and Barbados (98.1) reported speaking only English or speak English "very well." In contrast, 67.2 percent of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, 62.5 percent of immigrants from Cuba, and 54.9 percent of immigrants from Haiti were LEP.

Note: The term "limited English proficient" refers to any person age 5 and older who reported speaking English "not at all," "not well," or "well" on their survey questionnaire. Individuals who reported speaking only English or speaking English "very well" are considered proficient in English.

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Half of all foreign born from the Caribbean identified themselves as Hispanic in 2009.
In 2009, 51.8 percent of Caribbean immigrants indicated that they were of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. The likelihood of a Caribbean immigrant identifying as Hispanic varied greatly by country of origin. For example, 98.6 percent of Cubans, 98.9 percent of Dominicans, and 51.1 percent of persons born in Dominica self-identified as Hispanic, compared with the 99.6 percent of Haitians, 99.5 percent of Jamaicans, and 97.8 percent of Trinidadians who did not identify themselves as Hispanic.

Note: The U.S. Census Bureau does not consider Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish to be a race group. Persons of Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin may identify with any race group.

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Caribbean immigrants were more likely than immigrants overall to have graduated from high school.
In terms of academic credentials, Caribbean immigrants age 25 and older are more likely than other immigrants to have received a high school diploma or equivalent credential. In 2009, 27.2 percent of Caribbean immigrants had not received a high school diploma, compared with 32.3 percent of the foreign born overall and 11.4 percent of native born.

About 29.2 percent of Caribbean immigrants reported a high school diploma or the equivalent general education diploma (GED) as their highest educational credential, compared with 22.2 percent of immigrants overall and 29.7 percent of the native born.

At the higher end of the education spectrum, Caribbean immigrants were less likely to be highly educated than some other immigrant groups. Just 18.6 percent of Caribbean immigrants had a Bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 26.8 percent of the overall foreign-born population and 28.1 percent of the native-born population. Additionally, 24.9 percent of all Caribbean born had received some college education or an Associate's degree, compared with 18.7 percent of all immigrants and 30.8 percent of the native born.

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Caribbean-born men and women were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than were native-born men and women.
In 2009, Caribbean-born men (73.3 percent) age 16 and older were less likely to participate in the civilian labor force – i.e., to be employed or be seeking employment – than were foreign-born men overall (80.0 percent). Caribbean-born women (63.6 percent), however, had a higher labor-force participation rate than did foreign-born women overall (57.4 percent).

Additionally, Caribbean-born men and women were more likely than native-born men (69.1 percent) and women (60.2 percent) to participate in the labor force.

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Employed Caribbean immigrants were concentrated in service jobs; construction, extraction, and transportation occupations; and administrative support positions.
Among the 976,931 Caribbean immigrant male workers age 16 and older in 2009, 25.5 percent were employed in construction, extraction, and transportation occupations; 19.5 percent worked in service jobs; and 14.3 percent were in manufacturing, installation, and repair occupations.

Among the 1.0 million Caribbean-born female workers age 16 and older, 21.7 percent reported working in service occupations, 16.5 percent occupied administrative support positions, and 16.2 percent were in healthcare roles.

 

Table 2: Occupations of Employed Workers in the Civilian Labor Force Age 16 and Older by Gender and Origin, 2009

  Caribbean born Foreign born (total)
  Male Female Male Female
Number of persons age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force 967,056 1,005,427 13,143,161 9,377,865
Total (Percent) 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Management, business, finance 10.0 9.5 10.7 10.5
Information technology 1.9 0.6 4.2 1.9
Other sciences and engineering 2.2 0.8 4.0 2.2
Social services and legal 1.7 2.8 1.1 2.0
Education, training and media, entertainment 2.9 6.7 3.5 7.3
Physicians * * 1.3 1.0
Registered nurses * 4.3 0.4 3.6
Other health care practitioners 1.2 4.1 1.1 3.2
Healthcare support * 16.2 0.7 5.6
Services 19.5 21.7 18.5 26.5
Sales 9.3 8.9 7.8 10.3
Administrative support 8.4 16.5 5.3 14.2
Farming, fishing, and forestry * * 2.7 1.0
Construction, extraction, trade 25.5 2.3 24.5 3.0
Manufacturing, installation, repair 14.3 4.9 14.2 7.8

Note: * indicates that samples sizes are < 100.
Source: MPI Analysis of public use microdata from 2009 American Community Survey. Accessed from Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.


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Caribbean immigrants were about as likely as the overall immigrant population to live in poverty.
In 2009, 17.2 percent of Caribbean immigrants lived in a household with an annual income below the federal poverty line. The share of Caribbean immigrants living in poverty was comparable to that among the entire foreign-born population (17.3 percent) and substantially higher than that among the native born (13.5 percent).

The share of Caribbean born living in poverty varies significantly by country of origin. Almost one quarter (24.4 percent) of Dominican immigrants lived in poverty, compared to 19.1 percent of Haitians, 16.7 percent of Cubans, 11.2 percent of Jamaicans, and 11.1 percent of persons born in Trinidad and Tobago.

Note: Individuals residing in families with a total annual income of less than the federal poverty line are described as living in poverty. Whether an individual falls below the official poverty line depends not only on total family income, but also on the size of the family, the number of children, and the age of the head of household. The ACS reports total income over the 12 months preceding the interview date.

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Roughly 1.2 million children had at least one Caribbean-born parent in 2009.
In 2009, about 1.2 million children under the age of 18 resided in a household with at least one immigrant parent born in the Caribbean. Children in Caribbean immigrant families accounted for 7.8 percent of all children living in immigrant families (i.e. children residing with at least one foreign-born parent).

Most children (86.5 percent) living in Caribbean immigrant families were native-born U.S. citizens – a trend that is seen also in the share of all native-born children living in immigrant families (86.4 percent).

Note: Includes only children who reside with at least one parent and households where either the household head or spouse is an immigrant from the Caribbean.

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For more information about ACS data and methodology, click here.

Sources

Bahrampour, Tara. 2010. Eligible Haitians Will Have More Time to Apply for Temporary Protected Status. The Washington Post. July 12, 2010. Available online.

Passel, Jeffrey S. and D'Vera Cohn. 2010. U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows Are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade. September 2010. Pew Hispanic Center. Available online.

Ruggles, J., Steven, Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. 2010. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Available online.

Semple, Kirk. 2011. U.S. Sees Success in Immigration Program for Haitians. The New York Times. January 19, 2011. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics. 2009 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Various tables. Available online.

Wasem, Ruth Ellen and Karma Ester. 2010. Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Available online.