Migration data in the Caribbean
Long-term migration patterns in the Caribbean1 can be characterized by two principal dynamics. The first, and most prominent, is emigration out of the region, mainly toward Northern America (with the United States being the main destination country) as well as Europe. The second is intraregional migration, characterized in large part by migration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and in lesser part by emigration from Haiti and the Dominican Republic to other island territories and countries in the region, including the Bahamas (IOM, 2018). Intraregional migration and mobility, both permanent and temporary, of nationals between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member countries / territories has also become more prominent in recent years.
More recently, the arrival of Venezuelan refugees and migrants has added to complex migration dynamics in the region, particularly in the Dominican Republic as well as in islands and countries in the southern Caribbean that are proximate to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, including Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Curaçao (IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Response for Venezuelans (R4V), 2021).
Internal displacement caused by recurring disasters related to seismic activity and hurricanes is also a priority issue in the region. In 2020, Hurricanes Eta and Iota as well as Hurricane Laura generated significant numbers of new displacements in the region, affecting the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti, in particular (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 2021).
In the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has generated significant changes in mobility, migration and tourism patterns in the region. Border closures and travel restrictions have severely impacted many Caribbean economies that depend on tourism for jobs and overall economic wellbeing. As a reactivation measure, some countries and territories have applied “travel bubbles” which seek to reactivate both intra-regional and extra-regional mobility into countries of the region (IOM, 2020).
In regard to migration data, there are various institutions in countries and territories of the region that lead the collection, processing, dissemination and use of administrative records related to migration in the region. These institutions include migration line ministries, national statistical offices, tourism authorities who collect information on passengers and visitors and more (IOM, 2018).
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As of March 2020, border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a major impact on migration trends and human mobility in the region. Although many countries and territories have gradually relaxed quarantine measures and border closures, one of the most notable effects of the pandemic was the impact on tourism, jeopardizing income and economic livelihoods. The Caribbean Tourism Organization reported that, among its member states, the number of tourist arrivals in 2020 fell by 65.5 per cent, from 32 million in 2019 to just 11 million in 2020 (Caribbean Tourism Organization, 2020).
Among the measures implemented to reactivate mobility and tourism within and between Caribbean countries and territories is the application of “Travel Bubbles”, which began to be applied among certain CARICOM member states as of September 2020 (CARICOM, 2020). Only countries and territories with zero or very little transmission of the virus are allowed to participate. While it was initially established that negative COVID-19 PCR tests would not be required of individuals traveling under this scheme, this condition was changed from January 2021. At the time of writing, individuals moving within the Caribbean travel bubble must present a recent negative COVID-19 PCR test. However, in line with original stipulations, there are no mandatory post-arrival quarantine measures in place (Saint Lucia Tourism Authority, 2021).
The impacts of the pandemic have also raised concerns about the ability of Caribbean migrants to send money back home to families and friends in countries of origin. However, data until the end of 2020 shows that remittances in the region have remained relatively resilient and have even increased in some countries and territories. For example, estimates from the World Bank released in May 2021 indicate that migrant remittance flows increased by 12 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 in the Dominican Republic and by 15 per cent in Jamaica (World Bank, 2021).
Emigration (extra-regional and intra-regional)
The Caribbean can be primarily characterized as a region of emigration. As of 2019, ten of the top 20 countries and territories of emigration (in terms of proportion of the total population) in the world were in the Caribbean (UNDESA, 2020; IOM, 2020). According to statistics from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), as of 2020 there were a total of 9.08 million migrants from the Caribbean living outside their country or territory of origin (Ibid). This represents an increase of 117 per cent compared to 1990, in which the total number of Caribbean emigrants reached 4.19 million (Ibid).
The vast majority of emigration from the Caribbean is extra-regional. As of 2020, 90.5 per cent (8.22 million) of emigrants from the region lived outside the region, while only 9.5 per cent (859,403) lived in another country or territory in the region (Ibid).
By 2020, almost 89.6 per cent of Caribbean emigrants were in Northern America, Europe and South America. Among these regions / subregions, the main corridor is emigration to Northern America, the destination region for more than three-quarters - or 74.8 per cent - of Caribbean emigrants (UNDESA, 2020). Seven out of ten Caribbean migrants in the world in 2020 lived in the United States alone. The corridors between Cuba-United States and Dominican Republic-United States are the two corridors with the highest accumulation of migration flows between Caribbean countries and countries of destination (IOM, 2020).
Although only 9.5 per cent of migrants from the Caribbean lived in another country in the region in 2020, the intraregional migrant population has continued to increase each year, almost doubling over the last 30 years, with an increase from 437,177 in 1990 to 859,403 in 2020 (UNDESA, 2020). The majority - 66 per cent, or 567,956 - of intraregional Caribbean migrants originate from Haiti. Of these, 87.4 per cent, or 496,112, lived in the Dominican Republic in 2020 (Ibid).
The free mobility of people in the Caribbean has become a critical component of regional integration in recent decades, enshrined both in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) (IOM, 2019)2. In the CSME, all CARICOM nationals have the right to free mobility in the community and have a six-month stay permit in any other member state, under the “travel facilitation” scheme (Ibid). Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 439,328 movements of CARICOM nationals were registered under the "travel facilitation" framework (Ibid)3.
Refugees and asylum seekers
By the end of 2020, there were just over 187,320 refugees and asylum seekers in the world from Caribbean countries (UNHCR, n.d. [Jun. 14, 2021]). Of these, the vast majority, or 93 per cent, came from Haiti (104,991) and Cuba (69,349) (Ibid). The United States was the main country of destination for Cuban and Haiti refugees that year (Ibid).
There was a total of 1.61 million immigrants living in the Caribbean region by 2020 (including intra-regional immigrants and immigrants from countries outside of the region). Of these 1.61 million, 46 per cent (approximately 746,000) were immigrants from outside the region, mostly from South America and Europe (UNDESA, 2020).
The arrival of Venezuelan refugees and migrants to the region in recent years has also added to complex migration dynamics and has had a strong impact particularly (though not exclusively) in many small island states in the region (Inter-agency coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, 2020). Aruba, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago in particular have experienced the arrival of an estimated 172.5 thousand Venezuelan refugees and migrants as of 14 June 2021, according to the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants of Venezuela (R4V) (n.d. [15 jun. 2021]). Sixty-six per cent (66%) (or 114.5 thousand) of these 172.5 thousand were in the Dominican Republic (Ibid).
Four Caribbean countries and territories were among the top 15 countries and territories most affected by extreme weather-related events in the world between 2000 and 2019 (according to the Global Climate Risk Index), including Puerto Rico (first), Haiti (third), Bahamas (sixth) and Dominica (eleventh) (German Watch, 2021).
Between 2010 and 2020, there were a total of 9.14 million new disaster-related displacements recorded in the Caribbean, and a stock of almost 100,000 still remained displaced by the end of 2020 (IDMC, 2021)4. In this 11-year period, the countries that recorded the highest number of new displacements (in absolute terms) were: Cuba (6.60 million, or 72% of all displacement caused by disasters in the region), Haiti (2.04 million, or 22% of new displacements), the Dominican Republic (305,800), Puerto Rico (97,640) and Dominica (36,174) (Ibid).
In 2020, several large-scale displacement events occurred in the region, and a total of 694,035 new displacements were recorded, caused mostly by Tropical Storm / Hurricane Laura, as well as the devastating Hurricanes Eta (Category 4) and Iota (category 5) that hit the region in November 2020 (IDMC, 2021; IOM, 2020).
In addition to sudden-onset disasters, many Caribbean countries are increasingly susceptible to slow-onset environmental and climate change, and these processes are predicted to play an increasingly prominent role as drivers of migration in the region, particularly internally within countries from rural areas to cities, but also across international borders (IOM, n.d. [14 jun. 2021]).
Although very few countries and territories in the region collect and / or publish data on return migration, the phenomenon is a key component of the general migration dynamics in the Caribbean. IOM has previously identified four main categories of migrants returning to their Caribbean countries of origin, including (1) persons who were expelled by authorities in destination countries; (2) voluntary returns of economically active youth; (3) voluntary returns of older retirees who had emigrated from the Caribbean in the 1960s; and (4) migrants - particularly family units - who return to the Caribbean to raise their families, often to pay for their children’s’ private education (IOM, 2017).
Governmental bodies are the principal producers of data on migration in the region. Tourism ministries in particular play an important role in the collection and dissemination of administrative data related to characteristics and quantities of visitors and passengers arriving to and departing from countries and territories in the region (IOM, 2018).
The availability of data sources in the region depends on the level of analysis being carried out. Although regional trends can be obtained from global and regional databases, it is difficult to meaningfully and categorically characterize migration trends at the intra-regional or country-of-origin level given a lack of availability of migration-specific data as well as data disaggregated by migratory status in many Caribbean countries and territories (IOM, 2018).
The following is a list of official information sources at the national and regional level that offer data related to migration:
Sources by country
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Dominican Republic
- General Direction of Migration of the Dominican Republic: Open Data
- National Statistics Office (ONE)
- Central Bank of the Dominican Republic: Tourism Sector
Ministry of the Interior and Police of the Dominican Republic (MIP): Data on naturalizations
- Ministry of tourism of the Dominican Republic (MITUR): Institutional Statistics of entries by ports (cruises)
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Regional Statistics Caribbean Community (CARICOM): presents information based on data provided by CARICOM member states, including demographic indicators, regional financial statistics, data on tourism and trade, as well as migration.
- Research on International Migration in Latin America (IMILA): Led by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Center (CELADE) of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the IMILA compiles information from national population censuses on migrants residing in the countries of the region from 1980 onward.
- Database of Internal Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean (MIALC): Also led by ECLAC's CELADE, the tool allows users to access census microdata on internal migration in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Database and Statistical Publications (CEPALSTAT): presents statistical information compiled, systematized and published by ECLAC for countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, including data and statistics related to migration.
- Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas (SICREMI), Organization of American States (OAS): the system aims to contribute to the promotion and development of public policies that lead to better migration management in the Americas, through the facilitation of dialogue, cooperation, institutional strengthening and access to information.
- Regional Knowledge Hub on Migration (KM Hub), IOM: Managed by IOM, the KM Hub generates synergies in the region to take full advantage of the knowledge produced by way of project implementation and provides capacity building tools to governments and other stakeholders.
- Latin America & the Caribbean Migration Portal: led by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the portal is a comprehensive, curated online resource for data, research and analysis on immigration policy in the region, including key immigration statistics, primary source documents, a selection of evidence-based reports and original research and analysis.
Strengths and limitations of the data sources
Immigration authorities in Caribbean countries and territories are in charge of controlling the movements of entries and exits through official points and of collecting data on these phenomena. However, this information is not always made available for public consultation. Additionally, while countries and territories in the region regularly conduct censuses and household surveys, these tools often do not include important migration-related indicators. As a result, it is often difficult to obtain updated information on migration dynamics in the region.
- Existing free mobility arrangements in the region represent an important potential mechanism through which to strengthen information collection and exchange on human movement and migration in the Caribbean.
- The majority of data and information that do exist are made available through population censuses, which guarantees a high level of representativeness and reliability of the information provided.
- Many countries in the region maintain important agreements and alliances with international organizations for the collection and sharing of information, facilitating technical cooperation, the sharing of good practices and overall transparency.
- Most countries, especially the main receivers of tourist flows, have systems for registering and monitoring their visitors, which can be an important tool for capturing migration information.
- There is very minimal information and data related to migration available for public consultation. Systems to track and maintain administrative records on migration-related phenomena are often under-developed.
- The collection of administrative records is done in a disjointed manner across different public institutions in the same country.
- Data exchange mechanisms are scarce.
- There is a strong need for the development of formal migration strategies consistent with national development strategies, which duly contemplate information collection.
- There are gaps in institutional frameworks for the effective management of the movement of people across borders.
- Technical capacities for border management are often lacking.
- Data are not always published in a timely manner, inhibiting the ability to determine the most recent trends.
- The lack of standardized mechanisms to collect information on migration in the region makes it difficult to compare data.
- Different migration terms are often used within and between countries and territories to refer to similar statistical variables.
- It is difficult to access data disaggregated by sex and age.
Regional processes and actors
- Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM): the GCM is the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, covering all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. It is a non-binding document oriented in 23 key objectives. The GCM recognizes the importance and value of data in its Goal 1 (collect and use accurate and disaggregated data to formulate evidence-based policies), Goal 3 (provide accurate and timely information during all stages of migration) and Goal 17 (eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to change perceptions of migration).
There are several processes that promote the understanding of migration dynamics in the region:
- Caribbean Community (CARICOM): CARICOM was established in 1973 and since 2001 has operated within the framework of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The Treaty includes the free mobility of some groups of national CARICOM workers.
- Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States: The OECS is the intergovernmental organization dedicated to economic harmonization and integration, the protection of human and legal rights, and the promotion of good governance among countries and agencies in the Eastern Caribbean.
- Regional Conference on Migration (also known as the Puebla Process): Multilateral mechanism for coordinating policies and actions relating to migration in eleven Member States. Its main objectives are to exchange information, experiences and best practices effectively, in addition to promoting regional cooperation on migration.
- Caribbean Migration Consultations (CMC): The CMC represents a consultative forum of more than 20 governments and ten international organizations that exchange information and best practices on a wide range of migration issues.
- Association of Caribbean States (ACS): The ACS is a regional organisation comprised of 35 states, countries and territories of the Greater Caribbean that seeks to strengthen and integrate the countries of the Caribbean Sea area, with the objective of creating a common economic space and promoting the sustainable development of its members.
2 CARICOM is a group of 15 member states - Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago - and five associate members - Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands. The OECS is made up of nine member states - Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and two associate members - British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. All OECS member states and associate members are part of CARICOM (CARICOM, s.f., OECS, s.f.).
3 Data were not available for Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia (IOM, 2019)
4 Of the approximately 100,000 people living in disaster-induced displacement in the region by the end of 2020, the vast majority (85,000) were in Haiti (IDMC, 2021).
5 The website is public, but the link may not be accessible to everyone due to access restrictions on certain computers.Back to top
This report presents a diagnosis of the status quo regarding the production of migration data in the region. The report describes the political and legal framework within which international migration...