The population growth rate in Haiti's rural areas has been lower than the rate for urban areas, even though fertility rates are higher in rural areas. The main reason for this disparity is outmigration. People in rural areas have moved to cities, or they have emigrated to other countries, mostly the United States and the Dominican Republic. An estimated 1 million people left Haiti between 1957 and 1982.

Many of the emigrants in the 1950s and the 1960s were urban middle-class and upper-class opponents of the government of François Duvalier (1957-71). Throughout the 1970s, however, an increasing number of rural and lower-class urban Haitians emigrated, too. In the 1980s, as many as 500,000 Haitians were living in the United States; there were large communities in New York, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Thousands of Haitians also illegally emigrated to the United States through nonimmigrant visas, while others entered the United States without any documentation at all.

The first reports of Haitians' arriving in the United States, by boat and without documentation, occurred in 1972. Between 1972 and 1981, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reported more than 55,000 Haitian "boat people" arrived in Florida. The INS estimated that because as many as half of the arrivals escaped detection, the actual number of boat people may have exceeded 100,000. An unknown number of Haitians are reported to have died during their attempts to reach the United States by sea.

Though poorer than earlier immigrants, the boat people were often literate and skilled, and all had families who could afford the price of a passage to Florida. About 85 percent of these boat people settled in Miami.

In September 1981, the United States entered an agreement with Haiti to interdict Haitian boats and return prospective immigrants to Haiti. Under the agreement, 3,107 Haitians had been returned by 1984. Nevertheless, clandestine departures by boat continued throughout the 1980s. The Bahamas was another destination of Haitian emigrants; an estimated 50,000 arrived there by boat during the 1980s. The Bahamas had welcomed Haitian immigrants during the 1960s, but in the late 1970s, it reversed its position, leading to increased emigration to Florida.

Since the early twentieth century, the Dominican Republic has received both temporary and permanent Haitian migrants. The International Labour Office estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 Haitians resided in the Dominican Republic in 1983. About 85,000 of them lived on cane plantations. In the early 1980s, about 80 to 90 percent of the cane cutters in the Dominican Republic were reported to be Haitians. Through an accord with the Haitian government, the Dominican Republic imported Haitian workers to cut cane. In 1983 the Dominican Republic hired an estimated 19,000 workers. Evidence presented to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Slavery revealed that the Dominican Republic paid wages that were miserably low and that working and living conditions failed to meet standards set by the two governments. According to some reports, Haitian cane cutters were unable to leave their workplaces, and they were prevented from learning about the terms of the contracts under which they had been hired.

Emigration helped moderate Haiti's population growth. Furthermore, annual remittances from abroad, estimated to be as high as US$100 million, supported thousands of poor families and provided an important infusion of capital into the Haitian economy. At the same time, emigration resulted in a heavy loss of professional and skilled personnel from urban and rural areas.


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