From its earliest days, Bermuda has been a home to immigrants. Unlike many Caribbean nations, there were no indigenous people when the first English colonists arrived in the early 17th century, likely due to the island’s isolated position in the mid-Atlantic. Since then, empire-building, more than two centuries of slavery, and labor shortages have brought waves of immigration to the island—notably large numbers of British whites, West Indian blacks, and Portuguese Azoreans. The official language has always been English, though Portuguese is spoken within a restricted community.
According to the last census in 2000, the population stands at roughly 65,000, of which 60 percent is black. Seventy-nine percent of the population is Bermuda-born, while 21 percent is foreign-born. U.K. immigrants made up 28 percent of the immigrant population, Americans 20 percent, Canadians 15 percent, Caribbean 12 percent, and Portuguese/Azorean nearly 10 percent. Until a cap on immigration in the latter half of the 20th century, the most recent immigrants were British teachers, police officers, pharmacists, and nurses in the 1950s and 1960s. Caribbean immigration began arriving en masse in the late 1890s when citizens of Jamaica, St. Kitts, Barbados, and Trinidad were fleeing economic depression. Development of the Royal Naval Dockyard demanded the region’s skilled workers, and many West Indian Bermudian families can trace their roots back to this period. More Caribbean workers were recruited in the 1920s to build the Bermuda Railway, and later Caribbean police were sought to help balance the racial mix of Bermuda’s police force. Portuguese have also had a large impact on Bermuda’s demographics and culture since the first Azoreans were brought to the island in 1849 to revitalize agriculture. In the past 20 years, Bermuda’s East Asian community has developed, thanks to a high demand for Filipino guest workers as nannies and housekeepers. The number of Indian, Indonesian, and Thai nationals living on the island has also increased as restaurants seek cheaper labor than Bermudians are willing to provide, although their overall numbers remain small. Even today, though immigration laws are far stricter, Bermuda depends on foreign labor to survive, and inevitably many expatriates marry locals and end up living on the island forever.
© Rosemary Jones from Moon Bermuda, 2nd Edition