What motivates a person to move from his or her country of origin to another country? The answer is not so simple. A lack of jobs or the perception that the quality of jobs available is poor may be some of the factors. In the Caribbean, as in many other parts of the world, the social phenomenon known as migration has been increasing. Individuals decide to depart for other parts of the world, where they believe they will find a higher level of development and better job opportunities.

The precariousness of employment in the Caribbean is believed to have increased in recent decades. Although this is not a situation unique to the region, it is easy to see how international labor markets are an important and influential part of migration and globalization processes. Globalization is the generalized integration of a series of issues on a worldwide level. In economic terms, it can refer to the economic interdependence of regions and countries. In social terms, the process is encouraged by new technology and by new political and societal relationships. The social dimension of globalization basically refers to the impacts on the lives and work of people, their families and their societies.

Historically, in the Caribbean, the first wave of globalization took place in the period from 1870 to 1913, which brought about a considerable international mobilization of migrants. This process was interrupted by the crises between 1914 and 1945, which consisted of wars, the economic depression and political instability. The latest wave of globalization in the late 20th century was influenced by the mobility of capital and international business. Although today we live in a time of high global mobility and few restrictions for those who have a high level of human and financial capital, such as executives, international investors, information experts, and others, the international labor markets continue to be segmented and the limitations on poor and unskilled workers have not diminished.

Possible causes for decisions to migrate

It should be noted that migration is a two-way street: people may emigrate or immigrate. The come and go. In the Caribbean, the main motivations for the decision to emigrate are economic and are associated with an expectation that higher incomes can be earned abroad than in the country of birth. Other variables of a different nature may be military conflicts, racial, social or cultural discrimination, and political persecution.

Networks of family and friends already established at the site mainly influence the choice of a destination country. The dimensions and direction of international migrations are determined by both long-term factors and cyclical influences, such as disparities between real income in the country of origin and the destination country. Net inflows of immigrants, meaning there is more immigration than emigration, have a correlation with the ratio of the real salaries in the two countries.

When a migrant decides to move, there are two factors that weigh on the decision: uncertainty and pay. Considering the insecurity involved and the long-term outlook, it is important that the income in the destination country is higher than that of the country of origin.

It is therefore important to recognize the balancing nature of migratory processes. In the measure that disequilibrium exists in the labor market – the cause of these massive displacements – it is matched by capital or agricultural markets that cause indirect effects in the local labor environment. A greater supply of capital can lead to a higher demand for labor than can be met by immigration.

The Caribbean

The Caribbean region has experienced constant demographic movement since the 1970s. The growth of the Caribbean zone is mainly due to migration. This is true because the geographic displacement of individuals and groups generally occurs for economic or social reasons. The process of exodus, return and arrival of populations, in large numbers, has been positive for the Caribbean, as the average income of working people has increased over the last four decades.

The migratory scene in the Caribbean has changed in recent decades, however, and it continues to change. In general, this is because the world of today is undergoing complex and rapid patterns of globalization. As a result of this phenomenon, the migratory movements of Caribbean people are unquestionably extensive and varied.

Movements to, from and within the Caribbean are often described as complex because of the proximity of the area’s territories and the frequent and less obvious intra-Caribbean migrations. Population movements occur not only in the Caribbean islands, however, but also throughout the Americas. This makes gathering information more difficult.

Intra-regional movements are small in size, estimated at 10 percent of total migration. Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Jamaica are among the main countries of origin, while the Bahamas, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands are the main destination countries and territories.

According to research by the World Bank, there are an estimated 10 million Caribbean people living outside their countries of origin, most of them in the United States, Europe and Canada. An analysis of migration in the region shows a direct connection to countries with potential conflicts, such as Haiti,Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, among others. The “Greater Caribbean” includes Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Panama, and the coastal populations of these countries also have a tradition of migration. Political and economic disturbances, along with the level of poverty in certain countries, ensure that the pressures and incentives for migration remain persistent.

Migration plays a very important role in the social and economic development of the Caribbean. Most emigrants are usually in their most productive years, between the ages of 20 and 45 (Haitians 63%, Dominicans 53% and Jamaicans 48%) and generally have a high level of education. But information about immigrants in the Caribbean is not so precise.

Meanwhile, a report by the International Migration Organization in 2008 stated that the Caribbean region has one of the highest rates of net emigration in the world. As a result, the Caribbean has received growing amounts of remittances, which are payments regularly sent from one area to another over the years. These remittances amounted to about $400 million a year in the early 1990s and rose to $4 billion by 2002. The flow of remittances represented an average of 6% of the region’s Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) between 1998 and 2003, and now surpasses direct foreign investment and official development aid.

Considerable variations exist from one country to another. For example, Haiti receives the highest level of remittances (14% of GDP) and Trinidad and Tobago receives the lowest (about 1% of GDP). On the other hand, migration represents a “brain drain,” which weakens a country’s skills and abilities. An extreme case is that of Guyana, a country that has been losing teachers and nurses at a high and unsustainable level. In Jamaica, nearly 80% of the potential college graduates have left the country. In the Dominican Republic, as in Jamaica, even high school graduates often leave their country.

While intraregional migration, such as that of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is significant, in 2000, Caribbean immigrants accounted for 2,879,000 people, or 9.6% of the foreign population of the United States (2000 U.S. Census). Currently, flows of immigrants to the United States remain significant.

Unclear aspects of migration

The demographics of Caribbean migrations have changed in the past decade. The most notable change is the participation of women in the labor displacement, both formally and informally. Women have migrated throughout history. It is nothing new. But in the past, their movements were related to the family unit or a migrating man. Today, Caribbean women are migrating on their own, whether as the head of a family or because they want to try their luck away from their families. This trend has led to the phrase “feminization of migration.” But women migrants do not always find social and labor fairness. Racial gender discrimination is the dark side of female migration.

Labor rights and rules, social protection, gender discrimination and equal representation are other challenges associated with migration. Workers both abroad and within the Caribbean need regulated working conditions at the global, regional and national levels.

Within this setting, strategies should be considered that improve the quality of jobs and the protection given to those who migrate. Experts suggest that it is necessary for potential destination countries to identify and institutionalize their labor markets so that immigrants do not become another link in the underground economy, with all of the problems that come with it.

They also suggest that countries promote open-border policies. This allows for more efficiency in meeting labor demand. Another task facing Caribbean countries with significant emigration is reducing the shortage of decent jobs. Although this is not a simple task, it is one of the greatest contributors to improving health, family income, and education for families of migrants in their countries of origin. Migration worldwide, not just in the Caribbean, should include social protection for all.

The future of migration

The many cultures, languages, histories, political systems and levels of socio-economic development in the Caribbean region are interrelated through the migratory flows described above. Most of them began more than a century ago and continue today, in the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the Greater Caribbean. These are two-way movements: those who leave the Caribbean for other countries and foreigners who come to the Caribbean.

Whether due to political, social or economic upheaval, the poverty experienced on some islands, or the individual stories of the migrants, geographic displacement has added to the Caribbean culture for centuries and will continue to do so. The reasons for migration are complex and no single factor can explain the dynamic migrations in the Caribbean of today. What is clear is that many are incentivized to migrate. Based on that fact, migrations should be more regulated to avoid human trafficking, the spread of disease, migrations due to environmental issues, mass refugee flows, and brain drain.



Author: Dalila Rodríguez
Published: February 21, 2012.

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