Remittances in the Caribbean: “More than just money”



The Caribbean is both a region of origin, transit, and destination of extra-regional and intraregional migration flows, and experiences considerable cases of return migration. Migration has constantly shaped the history of this region.

It is important to stress the heterogeneity of the region which is reflected on a composition of both large and small islands as well as mainland countries located in South America (Suriname and Guyana) and Central America (Belize). Due to its enormous geographic, historic, cultural, demographic and socioeconomic diversity, the Caribbean is a challenging region to study when focusing on migration and remittances.

The Caribbean countries are primarily receiving countries of remittances. The Dominican Republic receives most remittances by far: USD 4.65 billion in total in 2014; then Jamaica, receives USD 2.26 billion, followed by Haiti (USD 1.9 billion). The United States is the main source of remittances, while in Europe, Spain (23%) and Italy (21%) are the main European sources of remittances heading to Latin American and the Caribbean (World Bank study Brief 24, 2015) – in the Caribbean region mostly destined for the Dominican Republic.

For instance, in Haiti, the Caribbean country most dependant on remittances, the World Bank concluded in 2014 that 21.1% of its GDP was derived from remittances. Estimates suggest that the total number of Haitians in diaspora varied from 1.5 million to 4 million and research conducted by the ACP Observatory on Migration showed that Haitian families depending on remittances can easily fall into poverty when these flows are interrupted.

As for Jamaica, the country has been dependent on emigrant labour and remains an emigration country, in 2013 having an official diaspora population of 1.098 million people. According to World Bank’s data from 2014, Jamaica received about USD 2.264 billion in remittances, mostly sent from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. This represents 15% of Jamaica’s GDP, making Jamaica one of the most highly dependent countries on remittances.

Similarly, in Guyana remittances are significant: a total of 314 million USD in 2014, constituting 11% of Guyanese GDP. 87% is sent from the U.S. and Canada and the rest is sent from the UK and other Caribbean nations such as Suriname.

According to a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “Migration and Development: the case of Latin America”, there are different incentives for sending of remittances, such as altruism, solidarity, self-interest (savings), payment of debts, and the diversification of household income and security. Some other researches carried out in Central American and Caribbean countries, have shown that 72% of remittances are used to cover daily costs, savings 7%, education 6%, and the acquisition of housing 1.8%.

Monetary remittances have a direct impact on the socioeconomic and employment structure of the Caribbean region. In fact, on a macroeconomic level, they can generate dependency for the Caribbean families and can probably, and only partially, compensate for the “brain-drain” caused by massive emigration of skilled professionals. For this reason, it is crucial for this region to develop policies aiming at potentiating the positive impact that remittances can have in development.   

Social remittances

Empirical studies have shown that remittances, although they can provide important support to local livelihoods, are not the ultimate solution to development. They can complement the Official Development Aid (ODA), Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and development policies, but cannot replace them. In the Caribbean region, the impact of remittances on human development also depends on the enabling political, economic and legal environment, migration patterns and individual situations.

In addition to financial remittances, “social remittances” may be transferred. The concept of “social remittance” refers to the ideas, norms, practices, identities and social capital that flow from sending to receiving communities. Migrants from different countries may bring with them social remittances that shape their capacity to develop social relations and integration into their recipient countries as it was observed between a Boston neighbourhood and the Dominican Republic.

These intangible transfers by migrants include new forms of music, better hygiene practices, language skills and new ideas on gender equality and human rights, among other contributions, in the receiving country. Social remittances are seen when people are exposed to different values and behaviours. For example, through the exchange of information and knowledge in the technology industry, new ideas and skills can circulate towards the recipient community to improve the business “back home”. The same could happen for many other professional sectors.

Nevertheless, research suggests that not all the ideas and practices are received in a positive way. This seems to be the case for rural communities where individuals or community leaders are not prepared to accept different values or consumption patterns different from their own. Social remittances are often mentioned as being an important contributor to local development, but few cases are available to illustrate this statement. More qualitative field researches in the Caribbean with communities and households with a high number of return migrants will be required to gain more insight on the real potential of social remittances.

The impact of monetary and “social” remittances is real all over the world, and the Caribbean countries are obviously no exception to that rule. Over recent years, the international community has recognized that remittances are a vital source of support for hundreds of millions of people across the globe, this resulted in the creation of an International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR - celebrated every year on June 16) by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The first IDFR was celebrated in 2015 at the opening of the Fifth Global Forum on Remittances and Development in Milan which brought together more than 400 policy-makers, private sector representatives and civil society leaders from around the world.

For further information, about the impacts of migration in the Caribbean we invite you to read IOM Working Paper I on “Migration in the Caribbean: Current trends, opportunities and challenges”.   


About the author: 

Gustavo Segura is a consultant at the IOM Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean. He has a Master’s Degree in International Relations with emphasis in International Cooperation from the University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, and a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Political Science from the University Lumière Lyon 2.


What makes migrants vulnerable to gender-based violence?

Categoria: Migration and Gender
Autor: Jacinta Astles

An increasing number of women are migrating independently from Central America and the Caribbean. Women represent 58.9 per cent of migrants from Caribbean countries and 50.3 percent from Central America. Moving abroad offers a range of potential opportunities and challenges, which are impacted by a person’s gender in complex and multifaceted ways.

Gender and migration are intersecting factors that mutually affect each other. Migration can have positive and negative effects on migrants depending on their individual characteristics and conditions. Likewise, an individual’s gender influences their experience of migration, including the risks and vulnerabilities involved in their journey.

Migration has the potential to create positive outcomes and contribute to women’s empowerment. It can open opportunities for: higher income, asset ownership, self-esteem, decision-making power and new autonomy. On the other hand, gender and migration can intersect to produce negative outcomes, such as multiple forms of discrimination, exploitation, and stigmatization. Migration may also offer women and girls an opportunity to escape situations of gender-based violence in their countries of origin.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. It may be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial and/or psychological. It can occur in public or in private and individuals of all genders can be victims. It disproportionately affects women, girls, and those of diverse gender identity or diverse sexual orientation (LGBTI) persons because of underlying gender inequalities. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

GBV can be a factor that drives migration from countries of origin. According to a report by Support Kind (2018), GBV perpetrated by family members, gangs and drug traffickers forces many women, girls, and LGBTI individuals to leave El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. GBV, particularly sexual violence, is used to maintain control over territories and populations, as gang members punish women, girls and their families for not complying with their demands. An average of less than 10 percent of GBV cases in the region result in convictions. As they are unable to gain protection in their countries, many women, girls and LGBTI individuals migrate in search of safer living conditions.

Migration does not cause GBV. However, during their journey, some migrants face situations where they are more vulnerable to violence. Numerous factors influence a person’s risks and vulnerabilities throughout their migration journey. Alongside gender, a key factor is whether the migration route is safe and regular.

Unsafe or irregular migration routes increase the risks of GBV, including human trafficking. Migrant women, girls and LGBTI individuals are disproportionately targeted by human traffickers. According to the 2019 Trafficking In Persons Report, traffickers in the Caribbean target migrant women, particularly from Jamaica, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic. In Costa Rica, LGBTI persons, particularly transgender Costa Ricans, are vulnerable to sex traffickers. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude.

At their destination and for those who return to their countries of origin, other intersecting factors, including a migrants’ financial insecurity, awareness of their legal rights, and language abilities influence their vulnerability to GBV.

Gender norms and unequal power relationships are the root causes of GBV against women and girls as well as men and boys and those of diverse gender identities. Perpetrators seek to exploit inequalities in order to exert power, coerce and deceive their victims. Recognizing these causes is central to developing effective interventions.

One of the strategies put forward by the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) addresses both gender inequalities and GBV through national labour laws, employment policies and programmes. This approach recognizes the independence, agency and leadership of women and seeks to reduce their vulnerability by increasing their access to labour markets.

According to the GCM, countries must ensure that the human rights of women, men, girls and boys are respected at all stages of migration, that their specific needs are properly understood and addressed and that they are empowered as agents of change.

These initiatives should be complemented by measures that support victims and ensure the effective prosecution of crimes.

A human rights-based and gender-responsive to migration governance is crucial for reducing GBV. Ensuring that the lives of all migrants are protected, and they have access to justice reduces their vulnerabilities and alters the culture of impunity in which perpetrators believe they will not face punishment.

GBV can cause short, medium and long-term physical and mental health consequences for survivors. Understanding how gender intersects with migration and addressing the root causes of GBV through a gender-responsive and human rights-based approach will create greater equality and human dignity throughout the region.