Summary of the history of international migration

The ethnic composition of the Jamaican population is linked to the nation’s socio-economic history and has deep roots in slavery and colonization. The first inhabitants were the aborigines of America (Arawaks and Tainos). However, with the arrival of the Spanish in 1494, the native population was sharply reduced. In 1655, the English occupied the island. In addition to the presence of the British, immigrants from China, India and West Africa provided labor for mercantile trade and the sugar production sector from the 17th to the early 20th centuries (Thomas-Hope et al., 2009 ). Sugar cane was grown on plantations on the island through a system that was supported by the institution of slavery.

Jamaica remained a British colony until it achieved its independence on August 6, 1962. Since independence, there has been a change in migratory patterns. Although in a limited way, Jamaica had been a country of immigration before its independence, but began to lose population due to the increase in emigration, particularly to destinations such as the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom, in search of better opportunities. of work and the promise of a better quality of life.


Immigration to Jamaica has been limited. Immigration data for the years 1953 and 1955 classified immigrants into six categories: 1) Employment , 2) Study , 3) Health Care , 4) Vacation , 5) Business , and 6) Other . The majority of immigrants fell into the Employment category and were predominantly male from the United States (576), followed by the United Kingdom (558) and Canada (192). Most were professionals.. Immigrants with work permits grew almost three times faster than the overall labor force during this period, and it was mostly men who contributed to this rapid increase (IOM, 2010). Spouses of professional men, however, accounted for a third of immigrant women during this period (Roberts and Mills, 1958).

Data on immigration of non-nationals, a category that includes Commonwealth citizens and nationals of other countries (foreigners), have been collected since 1970, and publication of aggregate data on this category began in 1998 (Thomas-Hope, 2004).

Immigration of Commonwealth citizens and foreigners has gradually increased due in part to the revision of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which gave rise to the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) allowing the free movement of people within CARICOM. The treaty facilitates and encourages the intra-regional movement of qualified community nationals and service providers carrying out economic activities in any CARICOM member country. More recently, increases in immigration can be attributed to the 2008 global recession, which created increased migration of Caribbean nationals to Jamaica seeking employment in non-traditional labor markets.

La población nacida en el extranjero representaba menos del 1.0 por ciento de la población total para 2013. La población total nacida en el extranjero que fue registrada para el censo de 2011 fue de 23.477, siete por ciento por debajo de lo contabilizado en 2001. Los inmigrantes usualmente son altamente calificados (técnicos, profesionales y técnicos avanzados) y tienden a tener permisos de trabajo de corto plazo. Los datos recolectados no hacen posible determinar si los permisos son renovados o si las estadías de corto plazo son la regla (OIM 2010).

Immigration has occurred in part due to a shortage of qualified personnel within certain sectors, such as the health sector, with nurses being recruited from Cuba and Nigeria to fill these quotas. In addition, the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 caused the immigration of refugees from that country escaping poverty and civil unrest.


International emigration has been an important component of the historical and current experience of most Jamaicans. Many migrated to Panama and other Central American countries as well as Cuba. They provided labor for, among other things, the construction of the Panama Canal; the development of the trans-isthmian railway; the plantations of the United Fruit Company and the expansion of sugar production (Thomas-Hope, 2009).

The flow of Caribbean immigrants to the United States after World War II, however, was limited by the passage in 1952 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act. This proposal drastically reduced the number of Caribbean agricultural workers authorized to enter the United States, a situation that persisted until the passage in 1965 of the US immigration liberalization law.

Until that year, migratory movements were directed mostly towards England, which received approximately 300,000 Caribbean immigrants between 1948 and 1966 (African-American Migration Experience, Schomburg Center, 2005). Large numbers of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers were recruited to work in hospitals and in the transport and industrial sectors, especially during the UK’s reconstruction efforts after the war. Eventually, with the implementation of restrictive immigration policies in the UK in 1962, however, a change in the selection criteria for immigrants has favored skilled workers as opposed to immigrants selected on the basis of labor needs for employment. the reconstruction.

Amendments to the laws of Canada and the United States, in 1962 and 1965 respectively, stipulated that foreigners would be given entry to these countries based on occupational and educational criteria to meet local labor market demand (Thomas-Hope et al. ., 2009). These changes in the laws caused a reduction in the movement of Jamaicans to the United Kingdom and Western Europe but increased their movement to the United States and Canada.

Over the last four decades, the total number of emigrants to the United States has amounted to 77 per cent of all emigrants from Jamaica, while emigrants to Canada and the United Kingdom during the same period accounted for 17.3 per cent and 5.7 percent, respectively, of all emigrants.

Data for the United States and Canada reveal that since 1970 more than 50 percent of all emigrants from Jamaica have been women, usually of working age, 18-44 years of age in the United States and 25-44 in Canada (Thomas -Hope, 2004; PIOJ, 2014). Most of the migrant women were nurses and teachers, for whom there was a high demand in the United States and Canada, which offer better job opportunities than in Jamaica.

The history of emigration has created a large Jamaican diaspora that is similar in size to the current Jamaican population (nearly 3 million). Data on Jamaicans with permanent resident status in the United States indicate that the majority of Jamaicans live in the metropolitan areas of New York and New Jersey and in Miami and Fort Lauderdale in Florida (IOM 2010). In Canada, Jamaican migrants are concentrated in Toronto and other Ontario cities (IOM 2010), while in the UK they are mainly located in the Midwest and London.

Regulatory framework that regulates international migration

The normative framework that regulates international migration in Jamaica is based on the following norms:

  •  Jamaican Constitution
  •  Foreign Recruitment Act (1875)
  •  Emigrant Protection Act (1925)
  •  Workers Recruitment Act (1940)
  •  Deportation (Commonwealth Citizens) Act (1942)
  •  Immigration Restriction Act (Commonwealth Citizens) (1945)
  •  Aliens Law (1946)
  • The Employment Agencies Regulation Act (1957)
  •  Criminal Justice Act (1960)
  •  Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment) Act or Work Permits Act (1964)
  •  Passport Law
  •  Nationality Law
  •  Law on the Free Movement of Persons of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) (1997)
  •  Child Care and Protection Act (2004)
  •  Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Law (2007)

These laws include all legislation affecting immigration, the issuance of passports, and the control of movements of non-Jamaicans entering and remaining in the country. These laws also provide the general framework for border management and security in Jamaica.

Based on the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment) Act or the Employment Permits Act (1964), employers may recruit foreign workers to meet the needs of the local labor market. The law stipulates the criteria for determining whether a person entering Jamaica is granted a permit to stay for six months or less, permanent residence status, or a work permit.

Regulation of entry and stay of migrants

The general requirements to enter Jamaica are: a passport with at least 6 months validity; a return ticket to the country of residence; an entry visa (as the case may be); evidence of financial solvency for the duration of the stay; and complete an Immigration Card. There are two broad groups that qualify for admission and stay:

  • Jamaican Passport Holders – Returning Residents and Visiting Residents
  • Non-Jamaican Passport Holders – Visitors; Workers (with work permit and exempt from work permit); Students; People with marriage exemption; dependents; People who were accepted for permanent residence or unconditional settlement.

The duration of permissions and restrictions depend on the entry category:

  • Permanent Residents (this includes retired persons of Jamaican retirement age and who can satisfactorily demonstrate their means of subsistence) – up to 24 months
  • People with a work permit – 3 months, 1 year, 3 years
  • Students – the duration of the study program
  • Holders of a marriage exemption certificate – The endorsement granted in this case is renewable every three years.

People seeking to obtain a work permit must apply to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security through their prospective employer or contractor, “Trade and Investment Jamaica” (JAMPRO, for investors), or through legal representatives. The categories of persons eligible to receive work permit exemptions are outlined in the Act. In cases where there is no intention to work but the applicant wishes to remain in the country for a period of more than six months, permanent status may be granted. by the Ministry of National Security. Any other person may stay as a visitor, up to a maximum of six months at any one time, provided they are in possession of a Jamaican visa in those cases where the individual is a citizen of a country for which the visa requirement applies. These regulations reflect a general strategy to manage national borders, while denying permission to remain in the country to anyone who does not meet the requirements governing entry related to work or visitor status.

Under the CARICOM Common Market and Economy (CSME) initiative on the free movement of workers, university graduates and other designated categories of workers are allowed to move and work throughout the region. This freedom of movement is granted through a Certificate of Recognition of Completion of CARICOM Competencies offered by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. This certificate replaces the Work Permit for CARICOM nationals.

Country exit regulations require an Immigration Card, a valid passport, and applicable visas and permits for the destination country.

Acquisition of nationality and citizenship

In the Jamaican context, the terms nationality and citizenship are used interchangeably. Under Chapter 2 of the Jamaican Constitution, persons born in Jamaica and persons born outside of Jamaica to Jamaican parents are automatically entitled to Jamaican citizenship. Women who have married Jamaican men or former citizens of the United Kingdom and its colonies who have naturalized or registered as British subjects in Jamaica can also register as Jamaican citizens. The Parliament of Jamaica has the power in the Constitution to make supplementary provisions for the acquisition, deprivation and renunciation of citizenship. The Governor General has the power to deprive Jamaican citizens of their citizenship who acquire citizenship or citizenship rights in another country.

Under section 3 of the Nationality Act, a citizen of any country mentioned in the First Schedule, or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, of full age and capacity, may be registered at the discretion of the Minister as a citizen of Jamaica if he /she is:

  •  Regularly resident in Jamaica
  •  In service of the Crown under the Government of Jamaica
  • In part of one and in part of another, for a period of five years from the date of application, or in a shorter term according to what the Minister may accept as special circumstances of each case.

Jamaican citizenship may be granted to persons on the basis of the following as expressed in the Jamaican Nationality Act and Chapter 2 of the Jamaican Constitution:

  • Ancestry
  • Marriage
  • Naturalization (non-citizens of the Commonwealth)
  • Registration (Commonwealth citizens)
  • Registration (minors)
  • Cases of doubt (whether based on fact or law, or based on certification that a person is currently a citizen of Jamaica)

Data provided by the Immigration Section of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) indicated that 1,493 foreigners were granted Jamaican citizenship between 2006 and 2010 (IOM, 2010).

irregular migration

The majority of irregular immigrants in Jamaica entered the country legally and were officially authorized to stay for the purpose of their visit, but subsequently overstayed the duration of their permits. There is no information on estimates of irregular immigrants in Jamaica. However, under current law, any immigrant who remains in Jamaica after the authorized period is subject to deportation by the Migration Section of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) (IOM, 2010).

Refugees and complementary protection

Jamaica has signed and is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the Convention) and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (the Protocol).

The Ministry of National Security has recently adopted a Refugee Policy (2009) to ensure its conformity and compliance with the obligations of the Convention and the Protocol. It has also established procedures to administer refugee status determination.

Main indicators of migratory movements, the migrant population and the employment of emigrants


Immigration (foreigners) Number of people Per 1000 inhabitants Change in percentage
2010 2011 2012 2013 2013 2013/2010
permanent and temporary 4762 4813 8883 9055 3.2526452213595 90.15119697606
Total immigration by type Number of people % distribution
2011 2013 2011 2013
Family 279 238 5.796800332433 2.6283821093319
Worked 2913 3907 60.52358196551 43.147432357813
Study na 1487 na 16.42186637217
A stranger 1621 3423 33.679617702057 37.802319160685
Total 4813 9055 100 100
Emigration (nationals) Number of people % of the total % change
Non-standardized data of destination countries 2009 2010 2011 2012 2012 2012/2009
All the countries 42683 40878 42462 43732 100 2.4576529297378
USA 31706 29485 30896 31217 71.382511661941 -1.5422948337854
Canada 10057 10505 10560 10505 24.021311625354 4.4546087302376
United Kingdom na na na 1000 2.2866550809476 na
Barbados 401 372 454 456 1.0427147169121 13.715710723192
Asylum applications and refugees per million inhabitants Number of people
Average 2010-2013
2010 2011 2012 2013 2013
asylum applications 0 0 0.36114890133087 1.4368394130798 0.44949707860268 4
Refugees 7.6614374315943 7.2604004328651 7.2229780266174 7.5434069186691 7.4220557024365 21
Components of population growth per thousand inhabitants
1985-1990 1990-1995 1995-2000 2000-2005 2005-2010
Total 5.83 8.03 9.53 7.59 4.38
Natural growth (vegetative) 19.602 17.282 15.334 13.374 11.751
net migration -13.772 -9.252 -5.804 -5.784 -7.371
Foreign-born population Percentage with respect to the total population Personas % change
1990 2000 2010 2013 2013 2013/2010
0.87772296002344 0.95468277477627 1.1833732447925 1.2538938348094 34.907 5.9592854855612
remittances Millions of dollars % of GDP % change
2010 2011 2012 2013 2013 2013/2010
1911 2025 2038 2065 14.1 8.0586080586081
Macroeconomic indicators Annual growth in % Average annual growth Level
2010 2011 2012 2013 2010-2013 2013
Real Gross Domestic Product -1.481043218224 1.7007521976858 -0.56710033862046 0.56161180197301 0.053555110703582
Gross Domestic Product/per capita (PPP at 2011 international dollars) -1.8 1.4 0.4 1 0.2 8607
Labor insertion of national emigrants in Europe and the United States percentages
Men Women Total
2010-11 2012-13 2010-11 2012-13 2010-11 2012-13
Participation rate 81.17951 80.64847 80.32154 80.19319 80.70801 80.38612
Employment rate 68.42409 69.21698 71.48286 72.25175 70.10511 70.96579
Unemployment rate 15.71262 14.17447 11.00413 9.902888 13.13735 11.71884


African-American Migration Experience (In Motion), 2005. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library. Online access (2015) via <http://www.inmotionaame.org/home.cfm>.

IOM 2010. Migration in Jamaica: A Country Profile, International Organization for Migration, Geneva.

Ministry of International Affairs and Foreign Trade, 2014. Draft National Policy for the Diaspora.

Ministry of International Affairs and Foreign Trade. Information Booklet for Returning Residents .

Instituto de Planeación de Jamaica, 2014. Draft National Policy on International Migration and Development

Thomas-Hope, Elizabeth et. al., 2009. Development on the Move: Measuring and Optimising Migration’s Economic and Social Impacts. A Study of Migration’s Impacts on Development in Jamaica and how Policy Might Respond. Junio 2009: Red de Desarrollo Global e Instituto para la Investigación de Política Pública.


Organización Internacional para las Migraciones. Migration for Development: A Bottom-Up Approach, A Handbook for Practitioners and Policymakers. <http://www.globalmigrationgroup.org/sites/default/files/uploads/UNCT_Corner/theme7/jmdi_august_2011_handbook_migration_for_development.pdf> (acceso Mayo 25, 2014).

International Organization for Migration [2012]: Migration in Jamaica: A Country Profile 2010.

Planning Institute of Jamaica. “Population.” In Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica 2013 , Kingston: PIOJ, 2014.

Roberts, GW, and DO Mills. Study of External Migration Affecting Jamaica; 1953-1955. Catholic University of America Libraries. Washington DC Institute for Social and Economic Research. University of the West Indies, Jamaica, British West Indies, 1958.

Jamaica Institute of Statistics. Population and Housing Census 2011 , Jamaica Volume 5 , Kingston, STATIN 2013.

Thomas-Hope, Elizabeth. Migration Situation Analysis, Policy and Program Needs for Jamaica, Prepared for the United Nations Population Fund through the Jamaica Planning Office

Leave a Comment