Trinidadian and Tobagonian immigration


Two simultaneous ethnic migrations—one black and one Asian Indian—occurred from Trinidad and Tobago beginning in the mid-1960s. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 164,778 Americans and 49,590 Canadians claimed either Trinidadian or Tobagonian ancestry. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimated that in 2000 there were 34,000 unauthorized residents as well, though the actual number is likely much higher. Some scholars place the Canadian figure much higher, perhaps more than 150,000. In the United States, the largest concentrations are in the New York metropolitan area and in Florida; in Canada, more than 60 percent live in Toronto.
The country of Trinidad and Tobago occupies two islands in the Caribbean Sea off the east coast of Venezuela, totaling 2,000 square miles of land. In 2002, the population was estimated at 1,169,682, with about 95 percent of the population living on Trinidad. The people are ethnically diverse, including blacks (40 percent), Asian Indians (14 percent), and racially mixed populations (32 percent). Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Hinduism are widely practiced on the islands. The islands of Trinidad and Tobago were inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians, respectively, when Columbus sighted Trinidad in 1498. The native peoples were soon killed by disease and forced plantation labor, leading to the widespread importation of African slaves during the 17th and 18th centuries. Great Britain, which acquired the islands during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), ended slavery in the 1830s, introducing laborers from India to work the plantations. Between 1845 and 1917, about 144,000 indentured Asian Indians were brought to Trinidad. Trinidad and Tobago were formally joined in 1889 and granted limited self-government in 1925. Between 1958 and 1961, the islands were part of an abortive West Indian Federation that collapsed when Jamaica withdrew in 1961. Trinidad and Tobago gained their independence in 1962. The nation was one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean, refining Middle Eastern oil and providing its own through offshore fields. In 1990, 120 Muslim extremists captured the parliament building and TV station and took about 50 hostages including the prime minister, surrendering after six days. Basdeo Panday, the country’s first prime minister of Asian Indian ancestry, was elected in 1995.
Exact immigration figures are difficult to determine. Prior to the 1960s, both the United States and Canada treated immigrants from Caribbean Basin dependencies and countries as a single immigrant unit known as “West Indians.” Due to the shifting political status of territories within the region during the period of decolonization (1958–83) and special international circumstances in some areas, the concept of what it meant to be West Indian shifted across time, thus making it impossible to say with certainty how many immigrants came from each island or region, or when they came. Some Trinidadians and Tobagonians came between 1899 and 1924, when perhaps 100,000 English-speaking West Indians entered the country as industrial workers or laborers. With the opening of a U.S. naval base on Trinidad in 1940, a number of local inhabitants joined or provided services to the American military. Some served during World War II (1939–45) in Europe, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida. Between 1960 and 1965, 2,598 settled in the United States. Most Trinidadians and Tobagonians in the United States immigrated after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended racial quotas. Immigration numbers have remained steady since that time. Between 1966 and 1985, about 100,000 settled in the United States. After a brief downturn in the mid-1980s, the numbers rebounded. Between 1989 and 2002, an average of about 6,300 immigrated each year.
Trinidadians and Tobagonians first immigrated to Canada in significant numbers in the 1920s, when several hundred came to work in the mines of Nova Scotia, the shipyards of Collingwood, Ontario, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and as personal servants in the East. Some served in the Canadian army during World War II and were therefore allowed to stay as landed immigrants. Prior to the revised immigration regulations of 1967, however, their numbers remained small, with only about 100 domestic servants admitted to the country each year between 1955 and 1965. Between 1905 and 1965, the entire number admitted was fewer than 3,000. Freed from racial quotas after 1967, Trinidadians and Tobagonians immigrated in record numbers, with more than 100,000 admitted by 1990. Of Canada’s 64,145 immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, around 40,000 were officially listed as having arrived prior to 1991. Part of this may be explained by return migration, but accurate figures are in any case difficult to obtain because of possible census inaccuracies and illegal immigration.

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