Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, By Romardo Lyons – Almost 270,000 more people have left Jamaica, in comparison those who have chosen to return, and foreigners who choose to move to the island over an 18-year period.

According to data provided by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin), Jamaica’s “net migration” numbers amounted to — 269,991 from 2002 to 2019.

Carol Coy, director general at Statin, told the Jamaica Observer that net migration is the difference between the number of immigrants (returning residents and foreigners moving in) and the number of emigrants (people leaving) throughout a year.

If the number of immigrants is larger than the number of emigrants, a positive net migration number occurs. Coy said because more Jamaicans have emigrated within the stated period, the result (-269,991) is a negative figure.

Between 2002 and 2019, the years: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2013 saw the highest negative net migration figures, with -21,177; -18,789; -18,959; -19,436 and -17,947 respectively.

Further, in 2018, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported an estimated number of “1.3 million Jamaican-born persons” who are residing abroad, which amounted to at least 36.1 per cent of the national population at the time.

Robert Stephens, sustainable development consultant and former director of Tourism for Jamaica, told the Sunday Observer that high emigration numbers pose a threat to the nation’s development.

“It (data) shows that we are not providing enough opportunities locally and it shows that if we don’t, what will happen is that our best minds are migrating and developing other countries. In particular, North America is benefiting from it, and I think it is something where clearly, we have to look at how we’re also preparing our graduates,” he told the Sunday Observer.

The IOM said the United States has been a “permanent destination” for “young professionals and students” leaving Jamaica. United Kingdom and Canada are the other two major locations.

“When they leave school, they need to be going into things that are productive immediately. But we’re not creating a lot of those opportunities. And it has to be something that is done by private sector and public sector partnership. That is what is going to take us out of the hole we are in.”

Stephens contended that Jamaica has to properly manage natural resources to be able to create jobs for citizens.

“When we look at our tourism industry, for instance, we are not putting as much emphasis on our culture as we need to. What separates Jamaica from the rest of the world is our culture; our music, our art, our craft. And that really is where a lot more emphasis needs to be placed in tourism,” he reasoned.

“In the agro-industry, what is happening is we are not putting a lot of emphasis on end products. So, we are still exporting a lot of our raw materials and I think what we need to do is upgrade our manufacturing capacity to be able to take advantage of jobs. When you look at what has happened with some of our products that are now hitting the world market, some of them are oversubscribed but we’re not producing enough.”

But Dr Natalie Dietrich Jones, chair of the Migration and Development Cluster under the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, told the Sunday Observer that high emigration is not unusual for small island developing states like Jamaica.

“It is actually one of the factors attributing to their social vulnerability since it impacts other issues such as availability of skilled human resources, fertility rates and age dependency ratios. Remittances do not usually adjust for the negative impact on growth, since most is spent on consumption rather than investment. What is most concerning is the high rates of emigration of skilled or tertiary education,” she said.

“Early in the 20th century, governments in popular destinations had recruited migrants to assist with specific development projects or to enable family reunification. Most of these ended by the 70s, as countries began restricting migration. Post 9/11, migration regulations have tightened even further. Responses to migration have also been impacted by contraction in economies and increase in nationalism or far right governments, who are anti-immigrant and xenophobic.”

Dietrich Jones noted that each country has different reasons for trying to contain migration.

“For example, academics use the term ‘crimmigration’ to refer to the criminalisation of Afro-descended or non-white migrants, and the tendency for them to be over-policed when travelling or when residing in a country. We see this a lot in the UK, but it is a feature generally in developed Western societies,” she explained.

Though more people are leaving Jamaica, the IOM reported that there is an upward trend as more immigrants are coming into the country. The IOM said approximately 11,700 people moved to Jamaica between 2012 to 2016.

“Foreign-born immigrants accounted for 72 per cent of the total. China as the main country of origin — and India in second place — continued since 2011 to 2017. The returning Jamaican nationals accounted for 28 per cent of the immigrants. This included voluntary returnees and forced returnees,” the IOM said in their study: ‘Migration in Jamaica: A Country Profile 2018.’

Notwithstanding, Richard ”Dickie” Crawford, political analyst and founding member of non-governmental organisation, Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development, told the Sunday Observer that people leaving Jamaica is a worrying trend.

“It should be viewed as alarming by ourselves and the Government of Jamaica. Migration has always been challenging for Jamaicans. Many remained particularly in England. In the 1950s, their land was sold to mine bauxite and that led to more migration. Since that time, there has been a noticeable drop in agriculture, sustainable and rural development where most migrants came from, and migrants had to send remittances to their families, many of whom were left alone or with family members,” he related.

“Any kind of migration of this type creates a vacuum, development declines and younger people migrate to the cities as in Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay.”

Crawford said there are various factors responsible for the high emigration numbers.

“First, it is possible as the opportunities for jobs and starting businesses, including university graduates are scarce, as well as the lack of safety and high rates of crime that exist. COVID is another factor, and it might curtail migration as well as enhance it depending on how the pandemic is handled here and abroad.”

Dietrich Jones added: “Persons move for a variety of reasons including studying abroad, temporary work, family reunification, better quality of life or even personal security in the case of the LGBTQI community or persons living in communities with persistent crime. In terms of the response to skilled migration the Government has attempted to manage this but has not been very successful.”


“I don’t think anything is wrong with migration. The problem becomes the deficit created – brain drain – and the high cost to recruit replacement labour. We also need to think about brain circulation and the benefits derived from the diaspora community or returned migrants. For example, in entrepreneurship, technical skills and philanthropic donations.”