With a relatively small domestic population of about 2.881 million, Jamaica is certainly well-represented by emigrants around the world, particularly among its biggest trading partners (U.S., Canada, U.K.). According to the IMF, there are currently almost as many Jamaicans living abroad as there are on the island. This ‘Jamaican Diaspora,’ (dubbed “the brain drain” by the IMF’s Resident Representative for Jamaica, Constant Lonkeng Ngouana) poses two major challenges for the country. In the long term, Jamaica must “[maintain] an economic environment conducive to a vibrant labor market that would retain Jamaica’s trained labor force within its boundaries.” More immediately, however, it could take advantage of the Diaspora to seek potential benefits from increased overseas investment.
A 2013 World Bank study, “Diaspora Investing: The Business and Investment Interests of the Caribbean abroad,” explored a huge potential for investment in the Caribbean by educated emigrants. The study interviewed 850 members of the Caribbean diaspora, 65% of whom have Jamaican origins. According to the World Bank, 23% of these emigrants already invest in startups in the Caribbean. Many expats are also involved with charitable organizations benefitting their home countries (such as JAHJAH.inc – Jamaicans Abroad Helping Jamaicans at Home), and 90% want to get more involved with the region. 50% of the study’s respondents currently live in London, New York, Toronto, or Miami, representing three nations among Jamaica’s most important trading partners. The World Bank says that some hurdles to exploiting this potential include regulations and limited visibility of investment possibilities.
A recent study by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, “Value of the Diaspora to Jamaica’s Growth Agenda,” assessed the Diaspora’s effect on the nation (beyond remittances). A July Jamaica Observer article, “Gov’t red tape clogs Diaspora investment,” reacts to this study and criticizes the Jamaican government for failing to take advantage of untapped potential. The Jamaica Observer also emphasizes the Diaspora’s beneficial effects on the US economy, claiming that US$12.8 billion is lost annually in unexploited revenue. At a July Jamaican Stock Exchange meeting, Marlon Hill told Diaspora emigrants, “You have a choice as to where you put your money — Wall Street or Harbour Street.” The JSE wants to double Diaspora investment in the country by 2019.
While the long-term implications of this outward migration are arguably destructive for Jamaica’s labor force, increased Diaspora investment could present a promising short-run growth opportunity for a nation experiencing an average annual real GDP growth rate of only 1%.
Some questions to consider:
- Is this trend of outward migration sustainable for Jamaica’s workforce? How can Jamaica entice its educated, skilled workforce to stay on the island?
- How does Jamaica’s response to net emigration differ from other developing countries experiencing similar phenomena?
Elyse Ferris and Jimmy Fleck