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Jamaicans In America

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Jamaicans In AmericaJamaicans In America

by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer

Jamaicans have been migrating to other parts of the world for what seems like countless years, usually for work.


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Where do most Jamaicans immigrate to?

While we have Jamaicans as close by as neighbouring Caribbean islands and as far away as small islands in the Eastern Hemisphere, the largest Jamaican communities are in the first world countries, England, Canada and the largest of all are the Jamaicans in America.

This first great migration from Jamaica to the US occurred after the abolition of slavery in 1865, “swallow workers” were recruited from the Caribbean on a seasonal basis to work on the farms and return home after the period ended. The majority of these workers were Jamaicans. Of the 250,000 workers recruited between 1881 and WWI, 90,000 of them were Jamaican citizens.

Jamaicans were also recruited during both World Wars, a monument to these Jamaicans was made in the Portland parish.

Why do Jamaicans move to the US?

The closeness of both countries is a plus. To put things into perspective, Jamaica is closer to Miami, Florida than it is to Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that the United States is advertised as the “land of opportunity”, also resonates with Jamaicans so it is a huge pull factor for us.

The main reason to leave Jamaica for most emigres is the possibility of providing a more stable financial foundation for the family. Many Jamaicans however, make their life in America and then sponsor or “file for” their immediate family members to join them there instead.

The practice of sponsoring other Jamaican relatives to live in America is one which started as far back as the 20th century. This means, as much as Jamaicans are migrating today, there are now multiple generations of people living in America who are of Jamaican descent.

How many Jamaicans are in America?

Well, this will be hard to say. The issue many first-world countries face is the vast number of undocumented persons who are living in their countries.

The truth is many Jamaicans have decided to “run off” or overstay their time in the United States with the hope to become documented through marriage or by sorting out their documents from inside the country instead of waiting in Jamaica for sponsorships to come through.

It is also difficult to come up with a figure as many Jamaicans have acclimated to America and have instead adopted the nationality of an African American citizen.

But as it is now, over 900,000 documented Jamaican migrants live in the United States.
This makes Jamaica the largest nationality of US immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean.

With undocumented citizens added to the total number of Jamaicans currently living in America, it is estimated that well over 1.2 million Jamaicans are living in the country.

Where do most Jamaicans live?

Jamaicans usually migrated to urban centres in America, with the two largest communities being New York and Florida. Presently, more than half of the documented percentage of Jamaicans can be found in these two cities.

There are smaller communities located in Connecticut, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and California.

What do Jamaican migrants to America do for work?

Regardless of educational background, Jamaicans will more often than not be employed in hospitality, military service, retail or medical fields. For most though, their children are often pushed into the direction of sciences, law or other blue-collar jobs, which are prominent in the more urban areas where they settle.

Because of this, you will find that there are prominent Jamaicans in medicine, politics, law and other “traditional” jobs.

The high number of Jamaicans in America and other countries has both positive and negative implications for the country. On one hand, one of the biggest contributions to our GDP is earned from remittances sent from abroad to Jamaicans on the island.

But for there to be persons living abroad, means the more educated and able-bodied Jamaicans are the ones who are leaving resulting in a “brain drain” on the island.

In recent times as well there has been increased migration in the public sector services, specifically teaching and nursing as the employees of these two sectors especially are in search of better opportunities elsewhere. America is usually the first country that comes to mind.

Has Jamaica impacted American Culture?

Jamaicans In America | The Notorious B.I.G. (Grammys.com)Jamaicans In America | The Notorious B.I.G. (Grammys.com)

With so many Jamaicans living in America, the influences of Jamaican culture on that of the US are very evident. The popular Hip-Hop genre was created by Jamaican immigrant DJ Kool Herc in New York. Notorious B.I.G, lauded as one of the most prolific rappers in the world is of Jamaican descent.

Jamaican cuisine is among the most sought after by Jamaican immigrants and other American citizens. The Flatbush area in New York is well known for making Jamaican ingredients accessible and will typically have all the most used ingredients found in a Jamaican market.

This isn’t the only place in America that is heavily influenced by Jamaican cuisine, there are many restaurants across the country, most owned by Jamaicans or those of Jamaican ancestry.

Jamaicans in America | Emmy Award Winning Sheryl Lee Ralph -Jamaican-American Actress (Photo: Jamaican Gleaner)Jamaicans in America | Emmy Award Winning Sheryl Lee Ralph -Jamaican-American Actress (Photo: Jamaican Gleaner)

On the big screen, there are also Jamaican-American actors/actresses. Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jeffery Anderson and Harry Belafonte who are all of Jamaican descent.

Jamaicans in America | Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo: Wikipedia.com)Jamaicans in America | Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo: Wikipedia.com)

Jamaicans have not shied away from American politics either. The most notable is Vice President Kamala Harris who is of mixed parentage with a Jamaican father and Indian mother.

Colin Powell, the first African American Head of State is also of Jamaican descent.
It would take ages to exhaust the list of Jamaicans in America, but I am sure you now know that the Jamaican community in the States is alive and well.

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References & Sources For Jamaicans In America

  1. 2022. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 September 2022].
  2. Batalova, J., 2022. Caribbean Immigrants in the United States. [online] migrationpolicy.org. Available at: [Accessed 8 September 2022].
  3. CNW Network. 2022. Jamaicans are now the largest number of U.S. black migrants. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 September 2022].
  4. En.wikipedia.org. 2022. Jamaican Americans - Wikipedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 September 2022].

Jamaicans In America | Written: September 23, 2022

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