Differences in Migration from Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and from Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic

The Mona Passage is a stretch of the ocean that is sixty miles long separating the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico. The border between the two Island nations is does not have any checkpoints, bridges, desert or fence to limit migration from one country to the other. As a result, most Dominicans and Puerto Ricans have migrated from their country to the other at one point in time. The porous border allows for easy movement between the two countries through the Mona Passage. However, migration from the Dominican Republic differs from that from Puerto Rico in frequency, magnitude and cause.

Migration from the Dominican Republic has been more common throughout history than the reverse. It has been a consistent process since the 1960s mostly because Puerto Rico is classified as a United States territory. Therefore, most Dominicans and other immigrants view Puerto Rico as an ideal transit point into the United States. Thousands of immigrants from the Dominican Republic arrive in Puerto Rico through rafts called yolas (Bishop). Each yola is often used to smuggle over one hundred people into Puerto Rico every trip. Human smuggling is a booming business in the Dominican Republic. Although Puerto Rico is poorer than the poorest American state of Mississippi, it is still five times richer than the Dominican Republic (Bishop). This has provided more Dominicans with incentive to migrate to Puerto Rico and less incentive for Puerto Ricans to migrate to the Dominican Republic.

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The migration towards Puerto Rico exceeds that towards the Dominican Republic in magnitude. Migration by Dominicans towards Puerto Rico began in the 1960s and only reduced significantly in 2013 onwards when Puerto Rico experienced an economic crisis and the trend reversed. To emphasize on the trend change, the United States coast guard arrested over 1,565 Dominican immigrants in 2004 trying to enter Puerto Rico. In 2014, it arrested only 133 illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic (Fox News). According to Duany, there were 61,455 Dominican-born Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico in the year 2000. This represented about 56.1 percent of the entire foreign-born population (Duany). There are also thousands of immigrants from Puerto Rico in the Dominican Republic but the number is significantly lower.

Some of the causes of migration between the two counties are common such as economic turmoil. However, migration from the Dominican Republic appears to be fueled by multiple factors and not only economic turmoil. The first phase of mass exodus from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s was largely politically motivated. People with close links to the Trujillo dictatorship migrated to Puerto Rico in 1961 and subsequent years (Duany). Most of the immigrants were the ruling class, government employees and politicians. Migration trends from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico have historically tended to peak in election years. President Balaguer’s multiple re-elections in 1966 to 1990 were often characterized with a spike in migration to Puerto Rico.

Evidently, migration from the Dominican Republic differs significantly from that of Puerto Ricans to the DR. It is greater in frequency, magnitude and is caused by multiple factors including political reasons. However, both trends in migration are economically motivated. Dominicans have historically migrated to Puerto Rico for better economic prospects until Puerto Rico incurred a $72 billion debt which resulted in economic turmoil when the tourism industry in the Dominican Republic was booming. This caused the trend reversal in the last decade because the unemployment rate rose to twelve percent in 2014 (Reichard).



Bishop, Marlon., “The Other Border: Unauthorized Immigration to Puerto Rico” Latino USA, 2015.

Duany, Jorge., “Dominican migration to Puerto Rico: A transnational perspective” Centro Journal, 2005.

“Puerto Ricans flee to Dominican Republic to escape U.S. territory’s economic crisis” Fox News, 2016.

Reichard, Raquel., “Puerto Ricans Flee to the Dominican Republic to Escape Island’s Economic Crisis” Latina, 2016.