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A look at Jamaica's brain drain

Published:Wednesday | May 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Dr André Haughton

By Dr André Haughton

IN LIGHT of Jamaica's current economic stagnation, many ponder whether the country would have been more developed if most of its youngest and brightest minds did not migrate.

With this in mind, is it necessary to reduce the quantity of tertiary-level graduates who migrate from Jamaica on an annual basis? Today's Briefing explores the issue.

What is brain drain?

Brain drain is the process by which one country (home country) loses intelligent and technically skilled labour through migration to another country (host country), where the economic, geographic or professional environment is more favourable.

Brain drain basically occurs when people acquire university or college education or specialised skills and relocate to apply these knowledge and skills in a country they weren't born.

It is most prevalent in small island developing states. A recent study by the World Bank found evidence to suggest that roughly 85 per cent of Jamaica's tertiary-level graduates migrate; Jamaica has the second highest incident of brain drain in the world.

Guyana is first; the research indicated that roughly 89 per cent of their tertiary level graduates leave to find jobs elsewhere. More than 80 per cent of tertiary-level graduates migrate from Haiti and Suriname as well.

There is also another aspect of brain drain called brain waste, where migrants from one area to the next end up working in an environment where they never get the opportunity to apply their education, qualifications or skill set.


More developed countries suffer less from brain drain because their economies have the right mix of job requirements, the right working environment, higher salaries and wages, better health care, more comfortable working and living conditions, as well as the capacity to absorb these brains and technical expertise.

Some developing countries do not have the platform and/or the capacity to provide employment for all its tertiary-level graduates, as a result some people migrate. There is also the situation where more students pursue a particular university degree, or acquire a particular skill than the amount the country needs.

If the country cannot employ the magnitude of graduates, some people will definitely have to migrate. Typically, Jamaicans migrate to countries where employment is readily available, whether formally or informally, places where they are given the freedom to improve their careers, or where there are prospects for personal growth. Jamaicans migrate to developed countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Australia as well as to other small island states such as Barbados, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Bahamas.

Are there advantages?

Professionals who leave their home country to work abroad provide valuable employment for the host country. These skills and knowledge help to fill gaps in labour demand in these host countries, necessary for a more stable economy. On the flip side, these professionals' earnings are higher so they are able to send more money home in the form of remittances, which is very beneficial to the home country.

For decades, remittances remained one of Jamaica's major foreign-exchange earners. Some countries have laws in place to tax any income that its nationals earn abroad.


Brain drain involves the loss of valuable human capital that is necessary to help a country grow and develop. It is important for countries to have knowledgeable experts (technocrats) undertaking particular tasks - people who are competent at their jobs, who are capable of completing these tasks more efficiently. If not, the country will remain under-developed. A more knowledgeable and skilled economy is capable of making more informed decisions, which reduces wastage and maximises efficiency and output.

Developed countries are built on knowledge and expertise, and if developing countries like Jamaica, want to develop at a more rapid pace, they must create ingenious ways to balance brain drain.

How can Ja reduce IT?

Generally, people are more comfortable in an environment where they feel welcomed, even if the salary levels are low and infrastructure is poor. The country must try to create a sense of sovereignty and patriotism in its tertiary-level graduates, inculcating a will to help Jamaica develop beyond its current levels.

Also, employment and jobs must be awarded based on people's abilities and not political affiliation. Often people are given jobs based on who knows somebody; even if they are not capable of doing the job efficiently. These situations will frustrate the brighter minds that are unemployed and force them to leave the country to find jobs abroad where they are given the opportunity to apply their trade.

Dr André Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton; or email