Patria-Kaye Aarons | Who still sends remittances?
I remember watching the television docudrama 90 Day Fiance on TLC back in 2015. I returned to the train wreck of a series week after week because, quite frankly, it was thoroughly entertaining.
The premise: Foreigners in a relationship with an American citizen legally had 90 days to either get married to their new-found loves or get deported back to the lands from whence they came.
The storylines of each couple had me hooked. I could see straight through those who had pursued their relationships for genuinely felt emotions, versus those who saw their fiance as a meal ticket to 'Merican milk and honey.
I was personally vested in one couple in particular because the guy was a 'yardie'. Devar was a lifeguard at a Jamaican resort who spotted a vacationer at his hotel and decided that he had to have her. And have her he did (wink wink). After a taste of his sweet brown sugar, Miss Merica decided that she had to have him too - forever. Twenty days after meeting, Devar proposed, and Miss Lady accepted. The two hatched a plan to run off into the American sunset and get married - in that order.
Devar is exactly how you picture him. Body chiselled for the gods, skin intensely dark from countless days on the pool deck. He oozed MoBay man confidence and his teeth were whiter than his wife. He used words like 'morreding'. (Say it out loud in a sentence. Like, "When my wife-to-be and I are morreding, I will be so happy.") It made for brilliant TV (and necessary subtitles).
Devar and his fiancee's storyline came to a head one night because he was hell-bent on sending home remittance to his sister once he landed a job in the US. And his wife was not having it.
Devar's fiancee: I never realised you planned on sending money back to Jamaica. About how much are you planning to send when you start working?
Devar: Let's just say if I'm making 10. I'll send back around 9.
Devar's fiancee: I think I need that prenup.
You have to understand why it ticked off his wife-to-be so much. Her parents had to buy her engagement ring because Devar couldn't afford it. She paid for the airfare and all the paperwork to get him to America. She was, out of necessity, playing the role of sugar mama and he was talking about sending home remittance to his able-bodied sister in Jamaica. Before him pay her back. Before the sister look work. In her mind, madness!
Over US$2 billion in remittances comes to Jamaica annually, but I foresee that drastically declining in the next decade. It's something that not just remittance companies, but also governments, must consider.
So much has changed in three years. Devar is one of a dying breed who still feels obligated to repatriate remittances. Fast changing is the profile of the Jamaican migrant. Fewer and fewer persons in the diaspora have the kind of connection back home that compels them to send home money every two weeks when they get their paycheque.
The barrel child has either grown up or by now has been sent for and resides in the US or UK with their parent. I strongly suspect that the sending occasions are lessening, with peaks around Christmas, back-to-school and the one-off birthday money.
Cheap airfares are allowing long-distance couples to see each other more frequently and maintenance money is exchanged by hand. Moreover, with difficult times facing everyone, everywhere, people just aren't sending remittances with the frequency that they used to.
Second- and third-generation Jamaicans often feel no desire to send home funds to cousins and aunts in Jamaica - many whom they have never met and certainly don't feel close enough to to support financially.
And so both the sending and receiving pools shrink.
Though the lottery scam is undoubtedly contributing to increasing remittance figures, it can't carry on for long. Time must catch up to crime, and proceeds from the illicit trade will also dry up.
We must all ask ourselves, what will the benefit of the Jamaican diaspora be beyond remittances?
Devar's value to us, having left Jamaica, is more than money. It's not about the remittance he will send home (not over his wife's dead body). Devar's worth is what he contributes to the equity of Brand Jamaica. Every time he came on TV, viewers were reminded of our island. Because of the success of his marriage, others may be considering Jamaica as the land of big, strong potential husbands than finance.
It's a changing reality that we must acknowledge and exploit long before the remittance pool dries up. An active effort must be made to engage those who go away and encourage them to send people, even when they stop sending money.