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E.g., 09/18/2019

Caribbean Immigrants in the United States

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Caribbean Immigrants in the United States

Caribbean Day dancers

Dancers celebrate Caribbean Day in New York City. (Photo: maisa_nyc/Flickr)

In 2017, approximately 4.4 million Caribbean immigrants resided in the United States, accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants. With the notable exception of Jamaica, all major Caribbean nations were under direct U.S. political control at some point, which has created incentives and opportunities for the nationals of these islands to migrate to the United States.

The first wave of large-scale voluntary migration from the Caribbean to the United States began in the first half of the 20th century and consisted mostly of laborers, including guest workers from the British West Indies program who worked in U.S. agriculture in the mid-1940s, as well as political exiles from Cuba. The migration accelerated in the 1960s when U.S. companies recruited large numbers of English-speaking workers (from laborers to nurses) from former English colonies (e.g., Jamaica). At the same time, political instability in Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic propelled emigration of the members of the elite and skilled professionals. The subsequent waves consisted mostly of their family members and working-class individuals. In contrast, skilled professionals have consistently constituted a relatively high share of Jamaican immigrants to the United States.

Between 1980 and 2000, the Caribbean immigrant population increased by more than 50 percent every ten years (54 percent and 52 percent, respectively) to reach 2.9 million in 2000. The growth rate declined gradually afterwards. From 2000, the population increased 26 percent, to 3.7 million, in 2010, and grew another 18 percent, to 4.4 million, in 2017.

Figure 1. Caribbean Immigrant Population in the United States, 1980-2017

Sources: Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2017 American Community Surveys (ACS); Campbell J. Gibson and Emily Lennon, "Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850-2000" (Working Paper no. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006), available online.

More than 90 percent of Caribbean immigrants came from five countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago (see Table 1). Depending on the origin country and period of arrival, immigrants from the Caribbean have varying skill levels, racial composition, language background, and motivations for migration.

Table 1. Distribution of Caribbean Immigrants by Country of Origin, 2017

Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey (ACS).

Click here for an interactive chart showing changes in the number of immigrants from the Caribbean in the United States over time. Select individual Caribbean countries from the dropdown menu.

U.S. Policy Differences for Cuban and Haitian Migrants

Two populations from the Caribbean in the past received special treatment under U.S. immigration law. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) and the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords set the groundwork for what eventually became known as the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, which provided a pathway to legal permanent residency after one year of residence for Cubans who reached the United States via land, with or without a valid visa. Cubans intercepted at sea were returned to the island. Considered as refugees, Cubans reaching U.S. soil were also eligible to receive social services and public benefits to facilitate their initial integration. These policies led to large increases in the U.S. Cuban population. As part of the efforts to normalize U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relationships, President Obama ended the dry-foot part of the policy in early 2017. Today, Cubans who attempt to enter the United States via land without a visa are considered inadmissible and are subject to deportation.

Some Haitian immigrants who have been in the United States since a massive 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to remain in the United States. Even though Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the termination of TPS for Haitians in July 2019, citing improved livelihood in Haiti, the decision was enjoined by a U.S. district court pending the outcome of the legal challenge. As of October 12, 2017, there was a maximum of 58,557 Haitians who had TPS.

Caribbean Immigrants in the United States

The United States is by far the top destination for Caribbean emigrants outside of the region, followed by Canada (405,000), Spain (294,000), and the United Kingdom (232,000), according to mid-2017 estimates by the United Nations Population Division. Click here to view an interactive map showing where migrants from Caribbean island nations and other countries have settled worldwide.

On average, most Caribbean immigrants obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States (also known as receiving a green card) through three main channels: qualify as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, through family-sponsored preferences, or as refugees and asylees. Compared to the total foreign-born population, Caribbean immigrants are less likely to be Limited English Proficient (LEP), have lower educational attainment and income, and have higher poverty rates.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent 2017 American Community Survey [ACS] as well as pooled 2013–17 ACS data) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, this Spotlight provides information on the Caribbean population in the United States, focusing on its size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics.

Note: Socioeconomic characteristics (based on ACS data) are available only for immigrants from the Caribbean overall and those from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago due to sample size considerations.

Definitions

The U.S. Census Bureau defines the foreign born as individuals who had no U.S. citizenship at birth. The foreign-born population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, legal nonimmigrants (including those on student, work, or other temporary visas), and persons residing in the country without authorization.

The terms foreign born and immigrant are used interchangeably and refer to those who were born in another country and later emigrated to the United States.

Data collection constraints do not permit inclusion of those who gained citizenship of a Caribbean island nation via naturalization and later moved to the United States.

This article uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of the Caribbean region, which includes Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, the former country of Guadeloupe (including St. Barthélemy and Saint-Martin), Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, the former country of the Netherlands Antilles (including Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten), St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Since people born in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are native born to the United States, these territories are not included in the list of countries in the Caribbean under the Census Bureau’s definition. People born in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands instead are included in the definition of U.S. born.

Click on the bullet points below for more information:

Distribution by State and Key Cities

In the 2013–17 period, the majority of immigrants from the Caribbean lived in Florida (41 percent) or New York (26 percent). Miami-Dade County in Florida was home to 862,000 Caribbean immigrants, the highest among all U.S. counties, followed by much smaller numbers in Kings County (291,000) and Bronx County (277,000) in New York, and Broward County (265,000) in Florida. Together, these counties account for about 41 percent of the Caribbean immigrant population in the United States.

 

Figure 2. Top States of Residence for Caribbean Immigrants in the United States, 2013-17

Note: Pooled 2013–17 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the state level for smaller-population geographies. Not shown are the populations in Alaska and Hawaii, which are small in size; for details, visit the MPI Data Hub to view an interactive map showing geographic distribution of immigrants by state and county, available online.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013–17 ACS.

 

As of 2013-17, the U.S. cities with the largest number of Caribbean immigrants were the greater New York and Miami metropolitan areas. Approximately 63 percent of Caribbean immigrants in the United States lived in these two metro areas.

Figure 3. Top Metropolitan Areas of Residence for Caribbean Immigrants in the United States, 2013-17

Note: Pooled 2013–17 ACS data were used to get statistically valid estimates at the metropolitan statistical-area level for smaller-population geographies. Not shown are the populations in Alaska and Hawaii, which are small in size.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013–17 ACS.

Table 2. Top Concentrations of Caribbean Immigrants by Metropolitan Area, 2013-17

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013–17 ACS.

Click here for an interactive map that highlights the metropolitan areas with the highest concentrations of immigrants from the Caribbean and other countries.

English Proficiency

Caribbean immigrants were slightly more likely to be proficient in English than the overall foreign-born population. In 2017, approximately 44 percent of Caribbean immigrants (ages 5 and over) reported limited English proficiency, versus 48 percent of all immigrants. Very few immigrants from English-speaking Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (2 percent each) were Limited English Proficient (LEP), while immigrants from Cuba (63 percent) and the Dominican Republic (64 percent) had very high LEP shares.

Note: Limited English proficiency refers to those who indicated on the ACS questionnaire that they spoke English less than “very well.”

Age, Education, and Employment

On average, Caribbean immigrants are older than the overall foreign-born population. In 2017, the median age of Caribbean immigrants was 49 years, compared to 45 years for all immigrants and 36 years for the U.S. born. Caribbean immigrants are slightly less likely than the overall foreign-born population to be of working age (18 to 64; see Figure 4). Most immigrants from the Dominican Republic (78 percent), Trinidad and Tobago (77 percent), and Jamaica and Haiti (76 percent each) were of working age, while more than one-quarter (27 percent) of Cuban immigrants were seniors (ages 65 and older).

Figure 4. Age Distribution of the U.S. Population by Origin, 2017

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Caribbean immigrant adults overall (ages 25 and older) were more likely to have graduated from high school than overall foreign-born adults but had lower share of college graduates. In 2017, 23 percent of Caribbean immigrants had not finished high school, compared to 28 percent of all immigrants and 9 percent of U.S.-born adults. Approximately 21 percent of Caribbean adults had a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus 31 percent of all immigrant and 32 percent of native-born adults. Immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago (27 percent) and Jamaica (24 percent) had the highest share of college graduates, while one-third (33 percent) of immigrants from the Dominican Republic did not graduate from high school.

In school year (SY) 2017-18, 11,300 Caribbean students were enrolled in U.S. higher educational institutions, representing 1 percent of the total 1.1 million international students. Jamaica (2,800), the Bahamas (2,200), and the Dominican Republic (1,500) were the top three origin countries. Between SYs 2016-17 and 2017-18, the number of Caribbean students in the United States decreased slightly from 11,400 to 11,300.

Caribbean immigrants participate in the labor force at the same rate as the overall foreign-born population. About 66 percent of the Caribbean and overall immigrant populations ages 16 and over were in the civilian labor force in 2017, compared to 62 percent of the native born. Caribbean immigrants are more likely to be employed in service occupations and production, transportation, and material moving occupations than the other two groups of workers (see Figure 5). Immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago were most likely to be employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations (37 percent); while those from Haiti (38 percent) and the Dominican Republic (34 percent) were the mostly like to be in service occupations.

Figure 5. Employed Workers in the Civilian Labor Force (ages 16 and older) by Occupation and Origin, 2017

Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Income and Poverty

On average, household incomes of Caribbean immigrants are lower than the overall foreign- and native-born populations. In 2017, households headed by a Caribbean immigrant had a median income of $47,000, compared to $56,700 and $60,800 for all immigrant and U.S.-born households, respectively. Households headed by immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago ($61,300) had the highest median incomes, and Cuban ($41,800) and Dominican ($41,200) households had the lowest median incomes.

Similarly, in 2017, approximately 17 percent of Caribbean immigrants were living in poverty, a higher rate than for the native born (13 percent) and for immigrants overall (15 percent). Dominicans were the most likely to be in poverty (22 percent).

Immigration Pathways and Naturalization

Caribbean immigrants are more likely to be naturalized U.S. citizens than immigrants overall. In 2017, about 59 percent of Caribbean immigrants were naturalized citizens, compared to 49 percent of the total foreign-born population. Immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago (70 percent) and Jamaica (68 percent) had the highest naturalization rates, while those from the Dominican Republic (52 percent) were the least likely to be naturalized.

More than half (54 percent) of Caribbean immigrants arrived prior to 2000, followed by 24 percent between 2000 and 2009, and 22 percent in 2010 or later (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Caribbean Immigrants and All Immigrants in the United States by Period of Arrival, 2017

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 as they are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Similar to the overall immigrant population, most Caribbean immigrants who obtain green cards do so through family reunification channels. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, 66 percent of the roughly 174,500 Caribbean immigrants who became lawful permanent residents (LPRs) that year did so as either immediate relatives or other family members of U.S. citizens or LPRs, the same rate as the new LPRs from all countries. Caribbean immigrants were more likely to gain green cards as refugees or asylees (32 percent) compared to the overall LPR population (13 percent; see Figure 7), as a result of the large number of Cuban nationals who have adjusted their status under the fast-track process set by the CAA.

Figure 7. Immigration Pathways of Caribbean Immigrants and All Immigrants in the United States, 2017

Notes: Family-sponsored preference: Includes adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens as well as spouses and children of green-card holders. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens: Includes spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Diversity Visa lottery: The Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa lottery program to allow entry to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The law states that 55,000 diversity visas in total are to be made available each fiscal year. Individuals born in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and several United Kingdom dependent territories in the Caribbean (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands) are not eligible for the DV 2020 lottery.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, 2018), available online.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that as of 2012-16, approximately 351,000 (3 percent) of the estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from the Caribbean. Major sending countries of Caribbean unauthorized immigrants included the Dominican Republic (139,000), Jamaica (92,000), Haiti (57,000), and Trinidad and Tobago (29,000).

Click here for demographic profiles of the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States at national, state, and top county levels. Click here for a map showing state and counties where unauthorized immigrants from select countries of origin reside in the United States.

According to August 2018 data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 8,140 unauthorized Caribbean immigrants were active participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization. These individuals represented 1 percent of the 699,350 DACA participants. The top three Caribbean countries by DACA participation were Jamaica (2,590 recipients), the Dominican Republic (2,330), and Trinidad and Tobago (1,840).

Health Coverage

Caribbean immigrants are much more likely to be insured than the overall foreign-born population. In 2017, 16 percent of Caribbean immigrants were uninsured, versus 20 percent of all immigrants and 7 percent of the native born (see Figure 8).

Caribbean immigrants were slightly more likely to have public health insurance coverage (40 percent) and less likely to have private coverage than the overall foreign-born population, with 52 percent of Caribbean immigrants having private insurance (see Figure 8). About two-thirds of immigrants from Jamaica (66 percent) and Trinidad and Tobago (65 percent) were covered by private insurance, while sizable shares of those from Cuba (41 percent) and the Dominican Republic (49 percent) had public coverage.

Figure 8. Health Coverage for Caribbean Immigrants, All Immigrants, and the Native Born, 2017

Note: The sum of shares by type of insurance is likely to be greater than 100 because people may have more than one type of insurance.
Source: MPI tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 ACS.

Diaspora

The Caribbean diaspora in the United States is comprised of almost 8 million individuals who were either born in a Caribbean island nation or reported ancestry of a given country in the Caribbean, according to tabulations from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 ACS.

Remittances

Remittances sent to the Caribbean have grown steady since 1990 despite a small decline after the 2007-09 Great Recession. In 2018, global remittances sent via formal channels to Caribbean countries equaled $12.6 billion, up 8 percent from $11.6 billion in 2017. (See note below Figure 9 for data limitations.)

The Dominican Republic received more than half (54 percent) of all remittances sent to the Caribbean, followed by Jamaica (21 percent) and Haiti (20 percent). The level of dependence on remittances varies significantly by country: remittances accounted for more than one-quarter (27 percent) of Haiti’s GDP, while the share was much lower in Trinidad and Tobago (0.6 percent) and Grenada (0.1 percent).

Figure 9. Annual Remittance Flows to Caribbean, 1970-2018

Note: The 2018 figure represents World Bank estimates. No data are available for Anguilla, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, the former country of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
Source: MPI tabulations of data from the World Bank Prospects Group, “Annual Remittances Data,” December 2018 update.

Visit the MPI Data Hub collection of interactive remittances tools, which track remittances by inflow and outflow, between countries, and over time.

Sources

Acosta, Yesenia and Patricia de la Cruz. 2011. The Foreign Born from Latin America and the Caribbean: 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Available online.

Duany, Jorge. 2017. Cuban Migration: A Postrevolution Exodus Ebbs and Flows. Migration Information Source, July 6, 2017. Available online.

Gibson, Campbell J. and Emily Lennon. 2006. Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990. Working Paper No. 81, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2006. Available online.

United Nations Population Division. N.d. International Migrant Stock by Destination and Origin. Accessed February 1, 2019. Available online

U.S. Census Bureau. N.d. 2017 American Community Survey (ACS). American FactFinder. Accessed February 1, 2019. Available online.

---. 2018. 2017 American Community Survey. Access from Steven Ruggles, Sarah Flood, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, Erin Meyer, Jose Pacas, and Matthew Sobek. IPUMS USA: Version 8.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: IPUMS. Available online.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 2018. DACA Population Data. Data table, August 31, 2018. Available online.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Immigration Statistics. 2018. 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Available online.

Wilson, Jill. 2018. Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issue. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. Available online.

World Bank. 2018. Annual Remittances Data, December 2018 update. Available online.