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.
By Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova
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.