Jamaicans and the brain drain

Is this occurrence as a result of the country being underdeveloped?


Brain drain is the process by which one country, an individual’s homeland, loses intelligent and technically skilled labour through emigration to another country, where the economic, geographic or professional environment is more favourable.

brain drain

Photo (jamaicazimbio.com)

Jamaica has experienced this brain drain phenomenon for decades, as many college graduates and professionals alike go to other countries in order to obtain better opportunities as a result of finding limited resources in their homeland – referred to as ‘brain drain’. If the educated or the potentially promising individuals of a population continue to migrate to other countries permanently, then there will be observable differences between the two countries, since one loses its ability to foster growth and development while the other strive in the contribution of those said individuals. This is one of the reasons why countries are developed and underdeveloped.

brain drain jamaica

Photo (uwimona.com)

A study conducted by the World Bank found substantiated evidence to support the claim that Jamaica is the largest country to which brain drain occurs, with roughly eighty five percent of its tertiary level graduates migrating to other countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and other developed countries. However, Jamaicans also migrate to other Caribbean islands such as Cayman Islands, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas in order to maintain their Caribbean culture but gain more opportunities and resources.

Why is this?

Logically, developed countries have more offerings and job opportunities available to its citizens and with the increased ease of access to gain citizenship in these developed countries, small island residents find it more appealing to migrate. With higher wages, better working environment, health care systems, and living conditions, immigrants are more susceptible to permanently residing in their new country of residence. These persons no longer desiring to return to their homeland cause their home country to suffer economically and socially —because their homeland also loses potential professionals. The Caribbean countries with the largest migration rate to the United States were Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (forty-two and forty-six percent respectively).

The incapability to provide jobs for tertiary-level graduates is one of the biggest contributing factors in the brain drain phenomena to date. If a developing country is unable to provide proper jobs for the new working class, then people migrate.

Additionally, persons also migrate because they are underpaid or their job is not giving them the satisfaction they deserve. For example, someone with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is working as a teller at a bank. Evidently, the millions of dollars invested in their tertiary-level undergraduate and post-graduate training is being misused in the area in which they are employed. The person finding themselves in that predicament chooses to migrate so that they can exhaust all possible job offers in order to put their degree to good use, than settle for what’s available due to limited resources.

Also, immigrants find residence in other countries because they seek higher education which is not offered in their home country. For example, the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology is not offered in Jamaica at this time, so many persons choose to migrate in order to fulfill the requirement to practice as a professional psychologist. The move to another country could also be due to their desire to experience another education system. Caribbean residents more than likely have been exposed to the education system attributed to their particular country from toddler to young adulthood and probably would like to ‘try something new’. These new experiences, whether good or bad, shape individuals as a result and build character and are promoted by universities in individual development.

As a result of brain drain, valuable human capital is lost and that is one of the reasons developing countries remain developing and developed countries remain as is. Developing countries thrive on the knowledge and expertise of its citizens and their contribution to the countries’ positive growth and development and if developing countries want to evolve, they must create local ways to balance brain drain.

Dr. Haughton, a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies states that Jamaica can reduce the brain drain phenomena by “creating a sense of sovereignty and patriotism in its tertiary-level graduates where they will help Jamaica develop beyond its current levels.” He also added that jobs should be given based on an individual’s expertise and not political affiliation as professionals in their areas will migrate in order to gain employment for their achievements in other countries, leaving Jamaica behind.

By: Alexandra Daley

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