Not only did the population of Aruba increase rapidly in the course of the last decades, but the composition of the population of Aruba also underwent considerable changes. Aruba has a highly diverse population with distinct characteristics. People all over the world have established themselves on the island.
Migration trends in the last fifty years clearly reflect the economic, political and social events that have taken place in this period and have molded the ethnic and cultural diversity of the island. Large influxes of foreign-born persons occurred in times of economic growth and in periods of economic crises both Aruban-born and foreign-born persons left the island. The establishment of the LAGO oil refinery on Aruba in 1924 was the starting point of the arrival of a large number of foreign-born workers. In 1960, 23% of the population of Aruba consisted of foreign-born individuals. After the closing of the LAGO, immigration dropped substantially and persons emigrated to other countries. When the tourism sector boomed, immigration increased again. In 2010, a third of the population of Aruba was foreign-born, and persons from 133 different countries and with 92 different nationalities were living on Aruba.
Who are these migrants and where do they come from?
In fact, the majority of foreign-born persons living on Aruba in 2010 were born in Colombia, followed by persons born in the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Curacao. According to the Population Registry Office, the majority of foreign-born persons migrate to Aruba directly from their country of origin.
On the other hand, persons leaving Aruba are mostly born in Aruba and the most popular destination is the Netherlands. For the foreign-born persons leaving Aruba, the Netherlands is also the most popular destination except for the people of Colombian, Peruvian, Chinese and Philippine origin. More than half of persons born in these countries migrate back to their homeland.
In the last decades we see that a substantial number of foreign-born persons stay on Aruba. In 2010, almost two thirds of the foreign-born population reported having been on Aruba for more than 10 years. Therefore, it is important to know who these migrants are.
First generation migrants
First generation migrants compose a third of the current population of Aruba. The majority are working-age adults who are on average 41 years of age. Most migrants are women who for decades have outnumbered men. In 2013, for every 100 women who migrated to Aruba, 91 men established themselves on our island. Children and elderly persons also migrate to Aruba, but in smaller numbers. Currently, nearly half of all migrants are married, half have the Dutch nationality, a third speaks Papiamento at home, another third speaks Spanish, and 64% has lived on Aruba for more than 10 years.
Currently, one out of every three persons born in Aruba is born to at least one parent who is foreign-born. These are the second generation migrants. On average second generation migrants are 28 years old, 93.4% has the Dutch nationality and 68% speaks Papiamento at home. Only 8% of second generation migrants speak Spanish, 7% Dutch, 11% English and 6% speaks another language.
Migration and language
Thus the influx of migrants has not only influenced the composition of the population of Aruba, but also the language mostly spoken at home. Between 1981 and 2010 we see a steady decline in the percentage of the population speaking mostly Papiamento at home and a steady increase in the use of Spanish. On the other hand, the percentage speaking English shows a declining trend. Language is often the first and major barrier a migrant encounters in a foreign country. For migrants, Aruba is quite complex in this respect. Dutch has been the official language for many years and is the language of instruction in schools. Papiamento was introduced as an official language in 2003 and is currently being introduced in the schooling system. For a migrant, mastering both languages is more than a handful. During the last decades, a small increase was seen in the percentage of foreign-born who spoke Papiamento mostly at home. Between 1991 and 2010, this percentage increased from 32% to 36%.
The future of migration
The proportion of foreign-born individuals is expected to continue rising. Population projections show that in 2030, 45.7 percent of the total population of Aruba will be foreign-born. The growth of the foreign-born population is heavily dependent on demographic characteristics of the population of Aruba and on economic circumstances. Economic growth will fuel the need for more and more laborers. These laborers will not be readily available on the local market due to two important trends observed in the population of Aruba. Firstly, consistent low levels of fertility, given that women are consistently bearing less and less children, and secondly a rapid ageing of the population of Aruba. These two trends will determine the demographic landscape of Aruba in the years to come.