Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why was it so important for my parents to come to the U.S. in 1969?

On October 3rd, 1965 President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Act changed the way the U.S. allotted visas to individuals seeking to live in the U.S. Prior to 1965, the U.S. allotted visas by quotas favoring immigrants from countries that sustained the ethnic makeup of the U.S. that was noted in the census. This overtly racist policy was overturned by this act.

The act placed a ceiling of 120,000 visas for the Western Hemisphere but without a 20,000 per country limit. Priority went to individuals with the preference rating - close relatives of U.S. citizens. The law also required visa applicants wishing to work in the U.S. to obtain a certificate from the Secretary of Labor affirming that whatever job the immigrant intends to take does not displace a U.S. citizen. In sum, the new laws made it easier for individuals from the Caribbean to immigrate to the U.S. My parents were benefactors of this change in the law.

The law had a significant impact on the number of Caribbean nationals from regional Anglophone countries who received visas to work in the U.S. For instance, the following data highlights this enormous shift in the migration pattern between 1960-1965 (prior to the new immigration law) and 1966-1970 (after the new immigration law):

Immigration by Country from the Caribbean 1960 – 1970

Country                    1960-1965           1966 – 1970
Barbados                       2,377                     7,312
Guyana                         1,434                      5,760
Jamaica                        9,675                     62,676
Trinidad and Tobago       2,598                     22,367

Reference: Pastor, R. A. (1985). Migration and development in the Caribbean. Westview Press, Inc., Boulder, CO.

In Jamaica, the wave of immigrants was significantly large. Even though these numbers appear surprising, it pales in comparison to the number of individuals who stayed in the U.S. illegally after their visiting visa ran out.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1969 on work visas. They were part of the wave of skilled workers that took advantage of new U.S. immigration policies.Some argue, that the drain of skilled workers from fledgling countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago stunted economic growth in the region.

However, tough choices were made by parents and certainly some children were left behind with relatives. The promise was always the same for these children. “We will return for you soon.”

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