According to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, the country’s “net migration” figures show that compared to people who chose to return to the island and foreigners who decided to move there over the period from 2002 and 2019 nearly 270,000 more individuals left than arrived.
Carol Coy, the director-general of the Statistical Institute, defined net migration as the difference between immigrants – residents returning or foreigners moving in – and the number of emigrants, or those who left in a year. If the number of immigrants is higher than that of emigrants, a positive net migration number occurs. However, since more Jamaicans emigrated during the stated period, the result is a negative 269,991.
Within the given period between 2002 and 2019, the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2013 experienced the highest negative net migration numbers. In 2018, an estimated 1.3 million people born in Jamaica but living overseas represented at least 36.1 percent of the nation’s population at the time, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Robert Stephens, who is a sustainable development consultant and the former director of Tourism for Jamaica, stated to the Sunday Observer newspaper that high emigration figures represent a threat to Jamaica’s development as it indicates that the country is not providing sufficient opportunities for its citizen locally. This prompts migration to other countries, which then reap the benefits of Jamaica’s talent. North America, in particular, is a beneficiary of the situation, said Stephens, with the IOM reporting that the United States has long been a destination for “young professionals and students” who leave Jamaica. Two other major locations are the United Kingdom and Canada.
To create jobs for its citizens, Jamaica must manage its natural resources appropriately, Stephens said. Jamaica’s culture, music, art, and craft differentiate it from the rest of the world, so in the tourism industry, this is where more emphasis should be placed. In the agro-industry sector, more emphasis should be placed on upgrading the island’s manufacturing capacity.
However, according to Natalie Dietrich Jones, the chair of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) Migration and Development Cluster at the University of the West Indies (UWI), high emigration rates are not unusual for small island developing states such as Jamaica. What she finds concerning is the high rate of emigration among individuals who are skilled or who have tertiary education.
Although more people are leaving the island, reports from the IOM indicate a growing trend for more immigrants coming into the country; some 11,700 people moved to Jamaica between 2012 and 2016. Immigrants born in other countries represented 72 percent of the total, with China and India the first and second main countries of origin, respectively. Jamaican nationals returning to the island totaled 28 percent of the immigrants, including both those who returned voluntarily and those who were forced to do so.
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