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.
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.