Press Release

Improving living conditions in Jamaica can help to reduce emigration while also helping to increase the benefits derived from the Jamaican diaspora

31 December 2021

Today, the Jamaican Economy Panel (JEP) publishes the seventh round of its discussions focusing, this month, on the high rate of emigration from Jamaica and the possible consequences for the loss in highly-skilled Jamaican workers.

According to the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica (ESSJ), published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), net population growth decreased from around 10,000 people yearly in 2010 to a negative number since 2017. The primary cause for this is a significant net outflow of people through migration, reaching around 18,000 people in 2020.

Furthermore, those most likely to leave are of child-bearing age and are often highly educated and skilled, especially females, according to the 2019 ESSJ. With only 9.3% of male workers and 17.7% of female workers having a degree, the loss of highly skilled labour could have a deleterious effect on the Jamaican economy.

The JEP panellists opine that pull factors continue to be more critical than push factors, with most migrants seeking better economic opportunities and higher living standards in other countries. At the same time, the panellists also ascribed migration to substantial push factors, such as the burden of violence and quality of institutions in Jamaica. Keisha Livermore, Head of the Jamaican Office for International Migration in Jamaica, comments that "migration is a human right, but it should always be a choice. People should not feel pushed into migrating just to get away from a bad situation, whether the situation is related to crime and violence or the state of the economy."

In the ESSJ, it is pointed out that there are substantial benefits associated with a significant rate of migration, for example, through integration and building of economic networks. The JEP panellists are somewhat sceptical about this, however, with around half of the respondents believing that Jamaica is not benefitting sufficiently from the process of migration.

Dr. Nadine McCloud, Head of the Economics Department at UWI Mona and co-founder of the JEP, explains that "while it is true that networks help foster economic linkages, it is not clear that these linkages are perpetual. The substantial remittances sent to Jamaica are important for some of the most economically vulnerable recipients, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is little evidence to suggest that remittances are being used to encourage a necessary structural economic transformation in Jamaica".

Looking at policy options, the JEP panellists find that many general prescriptions for socioeconomic development, such as providing improved economic livelihoods in Jamaica and addressing challenges such as crime and violence, will also help reduce net emigration and potentially reduce the impact of a possible brain drain.

The sizeable Jamaican diaspora is the basis of another range of policy options for the Government of Jamaica. One idea is to look at return migration for Jamaicans before or after retirement. This policy would constitute a potential transfer of wealth to the country and reduce the long-term population decline. Such a policy could be accompanied by encouraging investment by the diaspora in Jamaican bonds or other types of equity. However, the underlying stressors regarding crime and violence would still need to be addressed for the policy to be effective. Increasing the socioeconomic impact of remittances can also be pursued, but no single prescription would help do this.

Responding to the survey results, Dr. Garry Conille, United Nations Resident Coordinator, shared that he fully agrees that "remittances should be a key part of the long-term development strategy for the Jamaican government. The laudable way in which Jamaica engages its large Diaspora should be an invitation for initiatives engage the diaspora as partners in addressing specific challenges in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Jamaica and the Government's Vision 2030."

The Jamaican Economy Panel is part of a partnership between the United Nations Resident Coordinator's Office (UNRCO) and the Department of Economics at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. The JEP brings together a select group of economic and public sector experts to address monthly socio-economic questions. These questions help to highlight relevant economic issues and the collective expertise of the panellists.

The full results of this month's discussion are available HERE.

 

For further information, please contact:

 

 

Dr. Olaf J. de Groot Economist in the resident coordinator's office

Dr. Olaf J. de Groot

RCO
Economist

UN entities involved in this initiative

IOM
International Organization for Migration
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office

Other entities involved in this initiative

UWI
University of the West Indies

Goals we are supporting through this initiative