Haitians have a long history of migration and temporary sojourns in other countries. More than one million are estimated to live in the Dominican Republic, where many serve as contract laborers harvesting sugarcane.
The children of Haiti's small middle and upper classes have traditionally attended schools in France; and political opponents have tended to leave the country after power changes hands. But for a long time, few Haitians came to the United States. In spite of the popular image that all immigrants want to come to America, the reality is that immigrant flows are directed toward the countries with which they have the closest cultural, political, and economic ties.
Haiti's links and largest immigration flows have traditionally been to France, along with French-speaking African countries (more than 1,500 had settled there by 1963) and Canada.
Until the late 1950s, only about five hundred Haitians permanently immigrated to the U.S. each year, while another 3,000 came temporarily as tourists, students, or businesspeople.
The origin of the Haitian immigration to the United States can be traced to the assumption of absolute power by President François "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1957. The United States became more involved in Haitian affairs, and the candidates for emigration began to focus on the U.S. With the 1965 Immigration Act that permitted family members to bring close relatives, more people entered the country. Nearly 7,000 Haitians became permanent immigrants every year, and another 20,000 came with temporary visas. But it was during the late 1970s and early 1980s that Haitian immigration entered the American public consciousness as boatloads of people washed onto South Florida's shores.