Dominican Republic: The Financial Cost of Undocumented Haitian Immigrants

The countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti share the same island, which has commonly been known as Hispaniola ever since its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. During that time, the island was compromised of the same territory and remained that way until 1697, with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain ceded the western part of the island to France, which was renamed Saint-Domingue.

Map of Hispaniola. From Traveling Man's Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

Map of Hispaniola. From Traveling Man's Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

This colony was gradually populated by African slaves, and who eventually rebelled against their French colonizers. It was in this manner in 1804 that Haiti was born, becoming the first independent country in Latin America. By 1822, Haiti had total control of the island and occupied Santo Domingo until February 27, 1844, when a secret society called “La Trinitaria” led by among others, Juan Pablo Duarte, was created to gain independence from Haiti and to create what is now the Dominican Republic.

Since that day, the Dominican Republic and Haiti have been two independent nations, with a different culture, beliefs, and system. Their paths of economic development has also varied greatly, with Haiti being the least developed country in the Americas and the Dominican Republic enjoys one of the largest economies in the Caribbean and Central America.

Despite these stark contrasts, it is the close proximity of these two countries that have the intertwined their own fates. A large number of Haitians cross the border on a daily basis, usually illegally, to look for work as construction workers or to work as street vendors selling fruit, candy or other small, inexpensive items. Others may be specially contracted to work on sugarcane plantations.

Haitian fruit vendor in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Caymang and used under a Creative Commons license.

Haitian fruit vendor in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Caymang and used under a Creative Commons license.

Due to the large numbers of undocumented Haitians in the Dominican Republic, a large percentage can be seen in the streets as beggars. These visible examples often leaves Dominicans with a negative stereotyped view of all Haitians. However, there is still a smaller percentage that arrive legally with intentions to study, often with scholarships, but may not be the typical profile of Haitans in the country. José Rafael Sosa introduces his readers to one of these successful students, named Gessy [es]:

Cuando uno conoce a Gessy, el esquema prejuiciado que tenemos de “los haitianos”, se va a casa del carajo. Gessy Bellerive nació en Grande Riviѐre Du Nord, cerca de la ciudad de Cabo Haitiano, y voy directo a la historia: acaba de graduarse Magna Cum Laude en la Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra. Ahora regresa a Haití a servir a su pueblo.

When one meets Gessy, the prejudiced idea that we have of “the Haitians” goes out the window. Gessy Bellervie was born in Grande Riviѐre Du Nord, near Cap-Haïtien, and I'll summarize her story: she recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Pontifical Catholic University Mother and Teacher. Now she is returning home to Haiti to serve her people.

Despite these positive examples of Haitians excelling in their neighboring countries, many Dominicans feel that immigration is out of control. Even though most arrive out of their free will, there are others that are brought to the Dominican Republic due to human trafficking and are taken advantage of in a network of beggars. There are estimates that there are approximately 1 million undocumented Haitians in the D.R., many of which are children who are working on the streets as window washers or shoeshiners. Manuel Vólquez of Diario Digital Dominicano [es] summarizes the situation this way:

Los haitianos se desplazan por el país como hormigas y han desplazado a nuestros obreros en sectores importantes de la economía como son la construcción y los negocios informales. Han llegado tan lejos que hasta usan niños en las avenidas para mendigar, han asimilado nuestra cultura y nuestras costumbres. ¿Cosas de la transculturización y la globalización?

The Haitians move around the country like ants and have replaced our workers in important economic sectors such as construction and informal business. They have arrived so far that they even use children to beg, have assimilated to our culture and our customs. These are things of transculturalization and globalization?

It is the economic impact on the Dominican State that worries many people, because of the funds destined to provide free medical care to the undocumented immigrants. There are cases where the number of beds available for patients are decreasing because they are often occupied by immigrants [es]. According to Dr. Bolívar Matos, the Health Director of the South Region, the cost to provide medical care to these immigrants in the San Juan and Elías Piña provinces [es]reached 55 million pesos (approximately 1.5 million dollars).

In the comments section of the Hoy article, many write about these increased costs. Rosado320 wonders how much the total cost on the entire island would be, since the estimates only included two provinces. Oscar Caceres thinks that taxes may need to be increased in order to meet these needs, and even suggests asking for international aid to help cover these costs. However, Davidlebron is a little more sympathetic and writes:

A nosotros los dominicanos ausentes, no se nos niega la atencion medica por estos paises tampoco…asi que estoy un poco sorprendido porque hay gente que considera que tratar a los hermanos haitianos es un problema. Claro que es costoso…pero a ninún humano se le debe negar el derecho a comer y ser atendido por probemas de salud…a muchos de nuestros niños se les atiende en hospitales del extranjero y nadie sale a relucir esto como si de algo negativo se tratara.

We, Dominicans abroad, they don't deny us medical attention in these countries either… so I am a bit surprised by the people who consider medically treating our Haitian brothers as a problem Of course it is expensive… but no human should be denied the right to eat and to be treated for health problems .. many of our own children are attended by foreign hospitals and no one brings this up as something negative.

These topics are often at the center of the discussion about Haitians in the Dominican Republic. As a result, Dominicans are often accused internationally of racism, abuse and mistreatment against the Haitian people, especially in the sugar industry. There are also outcries about the rights of Haitians when the Dominican Republic takes sovereign actions including deportation. There are non-governmental organizations that are active in these types of campaigns, and this is a topic that will be explored in the next article.


  • alfred julio

    I wpuld like for you next time to talk about, how in dominican republic they made haitian pay in US dollar to study, and they price of one haitian paid for 33 dominican and even this they still look at us as pepole who cross the boder and look for food or jobs, by the way this is my case i have to pay 1000 US dollar to have my papers legalize at coness, while a dominican pay 1000 Pesos. what do you think about that.

  • Thank you for this post; I learnt a lot by reading it.

  • Very interesting article. I have read other posts by Rocio in the blogs she mentions in her profile. As a foreigner in the Dominican Republic, this topic reminds me of the comments I heard when I first arrived here. Most Dominicans have a decent opinion about Cubans, but some others think Cubans come to “steal” the jobs from Dominican workers. I know they are different kinds of immigrants and in the end both groups have a positive impact on the Dominican economy.

  • sandra

    How ironic.. Dominicans, because of their own issues with the fact that they are descendants of slaves, treat haitians like third-class citizens. Yet, they come to the United States ILLEGALLY and expect to be treated fairly…

  • Very interesting article, I’ve definitely come away having learnt something as well.

  • Ramón

    For your information:

    I am a college professor in the Dominican Republic and a former university administrator. It is untrue that Haitians are charged more money per credit than Dominican students, although other foreigners do have to pay more. It is a right of any sovereign state to charge more to foreign students. That is the case in the U.S. where out-state-students pay more at state colleges.

  • Alix Nozil

    Interesting view, good to know. This issue is very complex and dominated by very emotional reactions on both! sides.

    On the other part there are these sugarcane plantations with modern slavery situation which still exist for 200,000 haitians. There is a financial profit.

    Some dominicans are doing well with the business of illegal trafficking across the border to RD. And sometimes hundreds of haitians are deported back on trucks by military…

  • To Alfred Julio: the reality is that all foreigners in Dominican Republic pay in dollars for their education, and the costs tend to be higher. I don’t necessarily agree with this system, as I think education credits should be the same for everyone, regardless of nationality, but it is true that foreigners, be it european, american, haitian, asian or indian (many indians study medicine is dominican universities), pay in dollars and even have a premium attached.

  • To Sandra: I don’t agree with illegal inmigration in any form, I am merely stating some facts in regards to the situation in Dominican Republic when it comes to our neighbors, the haitians.

  • hdes

    Migration is without a doubt a side effect of development. All countries that develop their economies experience both legal and illegal migration from less fortunate neighbors. The best way for the DR to cope with it is by establishing stronger bilateral links with Haiti, sharing practices that may help boost the Haitian economy.

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