According to data from the 2009-2011 ACS, there are 38,980 foreign-born Jamaicans in New York City. They make up 2.0 percent of the total city population (of 8,183,757) and 5.5 percent of the city’s total foreign-born population (of 3,019,068). The Jamaican foreign born make up 27.1 percent of all 615,241foreign-born blacks in the city. Furthermore, the Jamaican foreign born make up a whopping 75.0 percent of the 222,423 individuals in New York City who are of Jamaican descent, which also includes Jamaicans who are the native-born descendants of immigrants.
When the 1965 Hart-Celler Act removed the racially-based immigration quotas from the 1920s and made family reunification the new cornerstone of the American immigration system, Jamaican immigrants took advantage of the changes in immigration law. The emphasis on family ties helps explain why 93 percent of Jamaican immigrants in New York City entered the country between 1990 and 1999 with a family-preference visa. Only a small percentage (6.1 percent) of Jamaican immigrants in New York City have entered the country with an employment-based visa. While many Jamaican immigrants come to NYC in search of a better life, none came as refugees or used a diversity visa to enter the country.
Compared to other foreign-born populations, a much larger proportion of foreign-born Jamaicans five years and older speak only English at home. According to data from the 2009-2001 ACS, 97 percent of foreign-born Jamaicans aged five and over speak only English at home, compared to just 9 percent of foreign-born Haitians, and 23 percent of all foreign-born individuals in the city. The high level of English language use among Jamaican immigrants is not surprising given that Jamaica is an English-speaking country, although Patois or Patwa (a mixture of English and African dialects) is also spoken in Jamaica. Given that the vast majority of Jamaican immigrants already speak English already, they do not face a linguistic barrier in the United States like many other immigrant groups do. This may have a positive effect on their overall societal integration.
According to 2000 Census data, 31 percent of foreign-born Jamaicans in New York City aged 25 and over do not have a high school degree, 28 percent have only a high school degree, and 16 percent have a BA degree or higher. Compared to all foreign-born individuals in the city, a larger share of foreign-born Jamaicans have high school degrees, but a smaller proportion has college degrees. In terms of their educational attainment, Jamaican immigrants also lag behind native-born New Yorkers, a larger proportion of whom have high school and college and professional degrees. While the percentage of foreign-born Jamaicans with college degrees is still relatively low, this might change in future years as they integrate into society. The fact that many already speak English might help them to climb the educational ladder in the United States.
Even though the vast majority of foreign-born Jamaicans speak English, Jamaican immigrant men aged 16 and over have slightly lower rates of labor market participation (62 percent) that black immigrants (65 percent) and all immigrants (68 percent) in New York City. Also, a higher percentage of foreign-born Jamaican men (11 percent) are unemployed compared to all black immigrant men (9 percent) and all foreign-born men (7 percent) in New York City. We are not entirely sure what can explain this, and perhaps discrimination in the workplace places a role.
The story is different from foreign-born Jamaican women, however. Compared to foreign-born Jamaican men, a relatively higher percentage of foreign-born Jamaican women in the city are in the labor force, 67 percent, compared to 62 percent for foreign-born black women and 52 percent of all foreign-born women. Also, compared to men, a smaller share of foreign-born Jamaican women are unemployed, 6 percent. These differences in labor market participation between foreign-born Jamaican men and women are the opposite of the differences we observed between foreign-born Mexican men and women in New York City.
Foreign-born Jamaicans have a relatively high median household income ($59,915) compared to the other NYC immigrant groups we have studied in this class. This might have to do with the fact that many Jamaican immigrants already speak English and do not have to learn the dominant language like many other immigrant groups. It might also have to do with the fact that Jamaican immigrants, compared to other immigrant groups, are more likely to have completed high school, which might also help them in the labor market. However, the relatively higher median household income might also mean that foreign-born Jamaican households are larger than other immigrant households, with more people contributing to household income.
Sources (body text):
Lobo, Arun Peter, and Joseph J. Salvo. 2004. The Newest New Yorkers, 2000: Immigrant New York in the New Millennium. New York: New York City Department of City Planning, Population Division.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2009-2011. American Community Survey, 3-year estimates 2009-2011. (IPUMS data analyzed by John Mollenkopf, CUNY Graduate Center).
Vickerman, Milton. “Chapter 7- Jamaicans: Balancing Race and Ethnicity.” New Immigrants in New York. Edited by Nancy Foner. pp. 201-228. New York: Columbia UP, 1987.