From Conflict to Solidarity: The Dynamics of Eastern Caribbean Migrant Labour in the United States Virgin Islands, 1950–2020

Lomarsh Roopnarine

This article examines two issues regarding the in-migration of Eastern Caribbean islanders to the United States Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas): the migrant- workers’ bonded engagements and their subsequent adjustment and settlement in the Virgin Islands from the 1980s. The article reveals that the bonded workers lived in deplorable conditions, paid taxes, received limited benefits, were exposed to anti-alien sentiments, experienced unjust harassment, and faced forceful deportation from their employers and the authorities. Yet, they contributed to the socio-economic development of their host and homeland community. Their numbers have increased from a few thousand in the 1950s to constitute a third of the current population in the contemporary Virgin Islands. Subsequently, the native Virgin Islanders have become a minority population in the Virgin Islands. Tensions and stereotypes have developed between Black Eastern Caribbean islanders and Black native Virgin Islanders because of the demographic changes. Despite this experience, the former group has done remarkably well in the Virgin Islands, transforming their status from transient to transformative by taking advantage of reformed immigration laws, by individual motivation, and by dedicated sacrifice and hard work. These once-bonded aliens are now well integrated and have earned a “model minority” label in the Virgin Islands.

Keywords: Eastern Caribbean islanders, bonding, deportation, population explosion, model minority, United States Virgin Islands