Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Migration and national development

Published:Sunday | September 28, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Ronald Mason

Ronald Mason

Net migration is the quantum of persons who leave a country in excess of the number who move in. The CIA World Factbook notes that the net migration rate for Jamaica is 4.83 per 1,000. This is an alarmingly high rate; however, this trend is not new.

Jamaica's development prospect is dependent on the availability of skilled, trained personnel to facilitate growth. Sadly, we lack any positive, concrete programme to retain persons who have the needed skill sets.

There is a school of thought that Jamaica pursues a programme of training persons specifically to have them migrate. This would result in, among other things, population control and increased remittances. This programme is, by default, in effect.

The 2011 Population and Housing Census states that between 2001 and 2010, some 216,200 able-bodied skilled persons in the 15-64 age groups migrated from Jamaica. What is the result on the national-development objective if this high migration rate is to be maintained for a long period of time? The fact is, we are a nation of migrants. Recall the trek to Panama, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, the other Caribbean islands and other European countries like Germany and France.

Jamaicans everywhere

It's commonly said that there is no place on earth where Jamaicans cannot be found. I have fond memories of a time long past of almost being crushed by a bear hug on the streets of Oslo, Norway, because a homesick Jamaican resident in Norway heard my colourful language on the street and made the instant relationship with our common heritage.

The migration of Jamaicans continues apace. The US Embassy in Kingston processes an average of 20,000 persons for permanent residency each year and some 80,000 persons for visitor visas each year. Seven out of every 10 applicants receive visitor visas each year.

There is strong evidence, however, that significant numbers of the holders of visitor visas to the USA do not return once having been lawfully admitted there. Canada is currently on a recruiting drive for our trained people. Canada has a programme titled 'Express Entry'. Highly skilled Jamaican professionals in such industries as health care, financial services and construction are being encouraged to send applications to a consultant, as come January 2015, the programme will be launched to meet current and future labour-market needs in Canada. This should result in these skilled persons being in Canada within months, not years.

The UNDP and the Government of Jamaica in June 2013 released a Draft National Policy and Plan of Action on International Migration and Development. This plan seeks to respond to key global developments which have revealed, over time, the need to address the broad and evolving range of challenges and opportunities associated with migration. The policy seeks to ensure that international migration is adequately measured, monitored and influenced to serve the development needs of Jamaica as outlined in the Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan. The Draft comes with the signatures of Collin Bullock, director general of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, and Paul Robotham, permanent secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

The Draft goes on to acknowledge and state: "Migration and development are interdependent processes." This is further seen as the link to a global approach to analyse the economic, social, environmental and political impact of migration and development.

The need for analysis of this link is obvious in Jamaica. At present, some 85 per cent of our tertiary graduates migrate. The implication of this is worthy of study. Are we posturing to be even more reliant on remittances as against hard development? Are we, therefore, to have our tertiary institutions produce skill sets rather foster world-class research and the resulting innovation? It is my opinion that wealth creation for the future must be sustained by innovation.

foundation for national development

Remittance, though welcome and currently very significant, must not be seen as the foundation for national development. The experience regarding investment over time by Jamaican nationals who migrate and acquire additional skills is not supported by a body of factual information. Let us face it: The diaspora all plan to return, but they rarely do. Jamaica's services, infrastructure and social maladies all work against their return.

The Draft states some of the negative impacts of migration. They include:

The possibility that remittances can become a disincentive to work for those left at home, more so at an exchange rate of J$112.70:US$1.

Return migration may not be sustainable for the migrants involved without the intention of the Government and other interstate cooperation efforts. Some of those policies now exist, e.g., collection of social benefits from USA, UK and Canada through Jamaican governments, but without any significant impact leading to return to Jamaica.

The departure of the country's brightest, best educated and most entrepreneurial citizens, depriving the country of revenue and preventing Jamaica from gaining early return on the educational investment made in those citizens.

To be continued.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.