Dominican Republic immigration to Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rican population of Dominican origin
 Dominican Republic  Puerto Rico
Total population
1.8% of Puerto Rico's population (2010)[1]
Regions with significant populations
San Juan, Carolina, Bayamón
Dominican Spanish, Puerto Rican Spanish, English
Christianity, predominantly Catholic

Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico dates back to the beginning of European colonization of the Americas. Immigrants have moved from the territory of the Dominican Republic to its eastern neighbor, Puerto Rico, and vice versa for centuries.[2] Dominican immigrants have come from various segments of Dominican society, with varying levels of contribution at different times.

In recent years, the rate of Dominican immigration has declined due to the unemployment and economic crisis in Puerto Rico,[3] and there's been increasing immigration in the opposite direction, from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic, consisting of both Dominicans returning from Puerto Rico as well as ethnic Puerto Ricans settling in the Dominican Republic.[4][5][6][7] Haitian nationals now make the majority of persons trying to reach the commonwealth nation from the island of Hispaniola, usually with the aid of Dominican smugglers.[8][9][10] Despite, the decline in popularity for Dominicans overall, due to the increasing xenophobia in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico is still a popular destination among people of Haitian ancestry who are living either legally or illegally in the Dominican Republic and don't want to get deported back to Haiti.

1795 to 1961[edit]

Many residents of Colonial Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic, left for Puerto Rico because of the cession of Santo Domingo to France in 1795, the Haitian invasions from 1801 to 1803, and the occupation from 1822 to 1844. Immigration continued over the next 86 years although at a comparatively low rate.

The dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo from 1930 to 1961 greatly constrained foreign travel by Dominicans. In 1960, there were 1,812 Dominicans in Puerto Rico, some of whom were "returning" descendants of Puerto Ricans who had themselves migrated to the Dominican Republic.

Historically, there has been very high migration between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, not only during the Taino era, but also during the Spanish colonial era up until modern times. It was very, very common, due to similar cultures, for newcomers to intermarry and assimilate easily into the local culture. It is estimated that significant portions of both islands have some distant ancestry from the other island due to the constant flow between both islands especially in the 18th to mid 20th centuries.


Dominican migration increased sharply after 1961 as a result of political events, of which the first was the assassination of Trujillo that year. Many politicians and other members of the conservative former regime, as well as government employees, left the country, many of them for Puerto Rico. The next major political event to drive emigration was the coup d'état against the elected, leftist president Juan Bosch in 1963. Then followed the Dominican Civil War in 1965 after a revolt to restore Bosch. The United States invaded the Dominican Republic a few days into the conflict, and one of its policies was to prevent renewed civil war by issuing visas to opponents or potential opponents of the newly elected US-backed conservative regime of Joaquín Balaguer (who was incidentally, like Bosch, of Puerto Rican ancestry). Many of the visaholders traveled to Puerto Rico.[citation needed]

Politics continued to play a role in emigration in succeeding decades, as presidential election years produced emigration peaks whenever Balaguer, a member of the former Trujillo regime, won the presidency, as happened in 1966, 1970, 1974, 1986, and 1990. As a result, most of the Dominican emigration was middle-class and skilled, including many managers and professionals.[2]

Although there are substantial upper class and middle class segments in the Dominican Republic, the country also has a high poverty rate. Since the 1970s, the poor economy of the Dominican Republic has rampantly driven emigration. Overall, between 1966 and 2002 119,000 Dominicans were legally admitted to Puerto Rico, while many thousands arrived illegally. Most emigrants, however, are far from destitute, as they tend to be jobholders in the Dominican Republic, many in skilled occupations such as mechanic, mason, seamstress, and nurse. Such migrants have been attracted by the economy of Puerto Rico's higher wages, which have generally tended to rise in relation to Dominican wages since the early 1980s, when an era of frequent devaluation of the Dominican peso began. Economic crises that beset the Dominican Republic in the 1980s further increased emigration. Despite strong economic growth, the 1990s marked the peak in Dominican emigration because of the high income inequality.[11] Another severe economic crisis hit in 2003 to 2004, again causing a surge in emigration.[citation needed]

The height of modern-day Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico was from 1970 to about 2005, when the Puerto Rican economy started to decline, since then its been slowly dying down, with increasing immigration the opposite direction, Puerto Ricans moving to the Dominican Republic. Though, many Dominicans who moved to Puerto Rico, stayed and started a life there, some Dominicans (and even other Latinos/Caribbeans like Haitians and Cubans) used it as a temporary stop-over point to the US mainland, particularly to cities like New York and Miami. Although, 2010 census estimates put the number of Dominicans living in Puerto Rico at 68,000, there are estimates that put the number as high as 300,000, with many undocumented.[12] Some Dominican criminals take advantage of Puerto Rico's territory status, by doing crimes such as Identity theft of Puerto Rican US citizens, and drug distribution working with Puerto Rican criminals to ship Colombian drugs to the island and then further be shipped to the US mainland. However, the vast majority of Dominicans come for a better life, to start a business, and live a positive lifestyle.

Illegal immigration[edit]

Abandoned yola in the coast of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

The illegal or undocumented component of the Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico has increased over recent decades, becoming large enough to attract great attention, both in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The first recorded illegal trip took place in 1972, and perhaps 28% of all Dominicans in Puerto Rico were undocumented in 1996, during the peak decade of Dominican immigration to the Commonwealth; many of the documented residents had regularized their originally undocumented status. Illegal immigration has been one of the most recurrent themes in Puerto Rican news media during the first decade of the 21st century.

Illegal trips usually take place in yolas (small wooden boats), usually overcrowded, as trip planners and boat captains seek to realize the greatest profit from the ventures. A trip on a yola takes 26–28 hours and takes place over the Puerto Rico Trench (an underwater crater area) or through the Mona Passage. Accounts by survivors include people being either eaten alive by sharks or forced to jump into the sea when there is a danger of sinking. Others tell of seeing their loved ones left behind to drown after a heavy wave has overturned one of these yolas, and many others tell of corpses left on board. Travelers sometimes die of starvation or dehydration since the yolas can get lost out at sea for days, and many have no type of navigation equipment on board to steer them in the right direction.[13]

The Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba (WMEC-907) interdicted this 30-foot yola with 28 migrants on board in the Mona Passage on May 21, 2019. The overloaded vessel has a pronounced list towards starboard, emphasizing the dangerous nature of these voyages.

Noted tragedies on such trips include a 1989 sinking near Mona Island where as many as 500 perished, and other, comparatively small tragedies where groups of 30 or more passengers have died. Perhaps the most famous of these tragic trips was the Nagua Tragedy, named so because the yola heading to Puerto Rico that time sunk while trying to make its way out of a beach in Nagua. More than one hundred died, including the boat's captain and the trip planner.

In November 2008, a group of 33 illegal Dominican migrants who were en route to Puerto Rico were forced to resort to cannibalism after they were lost at sea for over 15 days before being rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat.[14]

Not all illegal trips to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic end in tragedy. These trips are massively scheduled by traffickers, who sometimes travel up to three times each week from Puerto Rico to illegally bring Dominicans. But, because of the large amount of lives that have been lost in many of these trips, both the governments of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have launched mass media campaigns to try to reduce them. In the Dominican Republic, videos of dead bodies on the water are shown on television to try to deter people from travelling to Puerto Rico on yolas. The traffickers face long periods in jail if caught, whereas the travelers are deported to the Dominican Republic, where they do not face criminal charges.

In 2009 an order was given by Governor Luis Fortuño to shut off essential services, such as water and electricity, to Villas del Sol, a shantytown within the municipality of Toa Baja. The shantytown consisted mainly of homes built illegally on flood-prone government-owned land. The Federal Emergency Management Agency bought these homes from the Puerto Rican Government in order to keep them from being used further. In January 2010 the island government began demolishing some of the homes whose residents are both U.S. citizens and undocumented aliens, mainly of Dominican origin.

Current circumstances[edit]

Dominicans in Puerto Rico are largely disadvantaged politically, in great part because so many are not citizens. They are also disadvantaged economically, and possess on average much lower levels of education than the mainstream of Puerto Ricans on the island. That is in contrast to their situation in the 1970s, when a demographic study considered Dominican immigrants to be "privileged" and an "elite," as a large percentage of Dominican immigrants were professionals and managers. Their present characteristics have made them easy victims for ethnic discrimination, which include accusations of excessive use of government programs. They are often targets of prejudice and racism as well. In response, dozens of organizations have sprouted to increase the group's political participation, although these efforts' full effectiveness is hampered by inadequate coordination.

The group is not ignored by Dominican politicians, however. The main Dominican parties campaign in Puerto Rico during presidential elections and raise important amounts of funds from the Dominican residents. Dominicans in Puerto Rico send millions of dollars per month to their relatives in the Dominican Republic, and are thus also important as a source of foreign currency for the D.R.

The 2010 census estimated a population of 68,036 Dominicans in Puerto Rico,[1] equal to 1.8% of the Commonwealth's population. Majority of Dominicans in Puerto Rico live in the San Juan area, chiefly the cities of San Juan, Bayamón, and Carolina. Data from the 2000 census shows that 55% of this group lived in San Juan municipality, 11% in Carolina, and 7% in Bayamón. San Juan is about 9% Dominican, with a moderate concentration in the Rio Piedras district, in the southern part of the municipality.[15] Smaller numbers of Dominicans settle the west coast (around Mayagüez) of Puerto Rico due to proximity to Hispaniola, and the northeast portion of the island (around Loíza) some finding it easier to integrate among the more African-descended Puerto Ricans.

Majority of the Dominicans living in Puerto Rico have origins in the eastern portions of the Dominican Republic, including cities like San Pedro de Macorís, La Romana, Higüey, Nagua, as well as some coming from larger cities like Santo Domingo and Santiago de los Caballeros. The vast majority of Dominican immigrants in Puerto Rico, are black or mulatto/mixed, with very few Dominicans in Puerto Rico self-identifying as white, considerably lower white percentages than the Dominican Republic itself and the Dominican origin population in the US mainland, as the eastern portion of the country is more African descended than other parts of the Dominican Republic.[16] Women form a fairly large majority of the Dominicans in Puerto Rico. Family creation and intermarriage rates with Puerto Ricans are also high. Although the Dominican community has largely assimilated into the mainstream Puerto Rican population, due to very similar culture, they still retain traditions that uniquely Dominican. About 67% of Dominicans in Puerto Rico are legal citizens.[16]

Economically, Dominicans contribute most as unskilled and low-paid service workers, as operators, laborers and craftspeople, and they are well represented as small business owners. Their ratio of managers and professionals — 24% in 1970, higher than for mainstream Puerto Ricans at that time — is now much lower. However, Dominicans are employed in all occupations and industrial sectors of Puerto Rico's economy. Many members of the group have attained prominence and fame as entertainers, including musicians, singers, actors, and presenters.

Notable immigrants and descendants[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "SELECTED POPULATION PROFILE IN PUERTO RICO 2009-2011 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates". Data Set: 2010 U.S. Census. U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2020-02-12. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
  2. ^ a b Duany, Jorge (2005). "Dominican migration to Puerto Rico: A transnational perspective" (PDF). Centro Journal, spring. City University of New York. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños. XVII (001): 242–269. ISSN 1538-6279. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-04-06. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  3. ^ "Puerto Ricans flock to US mainland as island crisis worsens".
  4. ^ "Puerto Rican Migrants Drawn To Dominican Republic To Escape Economic Crisis". Headlines & Global News. January 27, 2016.
  5. ^ "Puerto Ricans flee to Dominican Republic to escape U.S. territory's economic crisis".
  6. ^ "Puerto Rico debt crisis headed for U.S.-style bankruptcy resolution". July 23, 2014 – via
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Puerto Rico Used As A Gateway To The U.S". Huffington Post. 2013-05-06.
  9. ^ "Coast Guard repatriates 86 Haitian migrants, detains 3 Dominican smugglers near Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico | Coast Guard News".
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-28. Retrieved 2013-11-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Castro, Max J.; Thomas D. Boswell (January 2002). "The Dominican Diaspora Revisited: Dominicans And Dominican-Americans In A New Century" (PDF). North-South Agenda Papers. University of Miami North-South Center (Fifty–three). ISBN 1-57454-113-7. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ "Dominicans Saved From Sea Tell of Attacks and Deaths of Thirst". The New York Times. 2004-08-12. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
  14. ^ Dominican migrant: We ate flesh to survive - A small group turned to cannibalism after being stranded in mid-ocean, NBC News, November 4, 2008
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-12-18. Retrieved 2016-05-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ a b "2010 Census". Medgar Evers College. Archived from the original on 2010-06-11. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  17. ^ "Nicky Jam | Biography & History". AllMusic.

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