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 do you call a person who moves within the same country?

What do you call a person who moves within the same country?
Categoria: Emergencies & Humanitarian Action
Autor: Luz Tantaruna

According to IOM, people who move voluntarily within a country are called internal migrants and move for several reasons, both formally and informally. If their movement is forced, they are referred to as internally displaced persons (IDP).

Internal movements from rural areas to urban areas is called urbanization or urban transition.

Migrants who move within the borders of their country are called internal migrants, that is, people seeking a new temporary or permanent residence, regardless of the reasons for doing so. A conservative estimate from UNDP in 2009 estimated that the global figure of internal migrants was 740 million. However, this estimate is uncertain, in part because according to the series of research on migration “International migration, internal migration, mobility and urbanization”, the greater the population of a country, the greater its percentage of internal migrants. This is also partly because of the complexity of defining the limits of this category: how far should a person be mobilized to be considered an internal migrant? How much time should they spend in this new residence? These and other questions make it difficult to measure the population that migrates within the borders of a State, and few countries keep records in this regard. Population censuses are often the most frequently used instruments to measure internal migration.

Within the category of internal migrants are internally displaced persons, who, although they do not cross an internationally recognized state border, are forced to move, “in particular as a result of or to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of widespread violence , violations of human rights or natural or human-caused disasters ”, as defined by the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement.

According to the Global Internal Displacement Report 2019, in 2018, the Americas region represented 3.7% of global internal displacements due to conflict, and 9.8% of displacements due to natural disasters. This reinforces, as the report says, that internal displacement is a global challenge, but it is concentrated mainly in some countries and regions, such as Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

According to the UN Population and Development Commission, urbanization or urban transition is related to “a change in a population that is dispersed in small rural settlements, in which agriculture is the dominant economic activity, towards one that is it concentrates on larger and denser urban settlements characterized by a domain of industrial activities and services”. Urbanization differs from urban growth in that the former means a movement of people, and the latter refers to an increase in the urban population. The definition of what is urban and rural changes from country to country. It is relevant to note that Central America is the second highest region in the world in terms of urbanization rates and is only surpassed by Africa.

The Migration Data Portal indicates that urbanization generally occurs through processes such as natural population growth; when more people move from rural to urban areas; when the limits of what is considered urban are extended; and as a result of the creation of new urban centers. Although there are other types of internal migration flows, such as rural-to-rural, urban-to-urban, and urban-to-rural, it is the transition to the urban that has gained increased the most significantly.

Internal migrants, internally displaced persons and those who move to urban areas can be in more than one category at the same time and from there they can sometimes get confused. In addition, we must bear in mind that people come and go, adjust their residence for short or long periods of time, and therefore migration is not necessarily a linear process. Instead, it is complex and fluid and occurs in different times and spaces. The factors that promote internal migration are multiple and combine with each other. These include social, political, economic, demographic, environmental and climate issues. Internal migration can also give rise to international movements, both within the framework of forced displacement and more voluntary processes.