Embrace outward migration and free up vacancies for skilled foreign nationals – JMEA president

Embrace outward migration and free up vacancies for skilled foreign nationals – JMEA president

Observer Business Writer

Friday, September 20, 2019

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President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Richard Pandohie is advancing the argument of Jamaica embracing outward migration as an economic strategy, while reducing the bureaucracy for skilled immigrant to fill existing vacancies locally.

Delivering the keynote presentation at the Planning Institute of Jamaica 7th Labour Market Forum on Wednesday (September 18) at Jamaica Pegasus hotel, Pandohie emphasised that there is value in promoting migration, encouraging the powers that be not just to see migration as brain drain but as an economic enabler.

Speaking on the topic, 'Labour Migration: A Jamaican Perspective,' Pandohie argued for the training of more skilled professionals and tertiary graduates for the overseas market, linking such a move with improvements in our net remittances.

He made the point that remittance is one of the largest contributors to our gross domestic product (GDP) amounting to 15 per cent, which is at the same level as tourism, and in terms of dollar value is $US2.3 billion per year out of a total GDP of US$15.8 billion per year. According to the JMEA president, “every 7 per cent increase in remittance is equivalent to a 1 per cent increase in Jamaica's GDP,” arguing that any significant growth in remittances will lead to massive improvements in our GDP performance.

Pandohie contended, “equipping our people to take on occupations in other countries…is a critical part of growing Jamaica; they will earn money that will have a transformative impact on their families.”

He drew reference to the German economy, where direct migration was credited for a 0.1 per cent addition of its GDP growth, pointing out that the European powerhouse had to bring in skilled workers from overseas to fill many vacancies in the economy.

The Seprod Group CEO also cited Trinidad, which recently gave out 3,000 work permits to Venezuelans, pointing out that this wasn't an altruistic move, as Trinidad was desperate for these skilled workers. Turning to Guyana, Pandohie urged that Jamaica target skilled outward migration to the South American peninsula, which based on their recent oil find potentially could become the 12th-largest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

He explained that Guyana's population is just over 700,000, noting that the country is underpopulated and is in need of urgent skilled labour to grow its economy adding that the Caribbean doesn't have all this skilled labour that is needed to grow Guyana.

“Having said that, we should equip our people for outward migration, I strongly believe that they could be encouraged to migrate, but the flip side of that equation is that Jamaica must actively encourage immigration of the required skilled resources to fill the gap that will be created,” Pandohie articulated.

The JMEA president made the point that he is not an advocate for barring foreigners from taking local jobs but rather is in favour of letting our people go and letting foreigners come in and replace them. He said that such a position runs counter to what his organisation advocated in the past, quipping that for such a position, he might be the shortest-serving JMEA president.

Pandohie further advocated for reducing the bureaucracy for work permits thus allowing skilled foreign nationals coming in to drive Jamaica's productivity, which is lagging behind its Caribbean neighbours and its competitors in the global market place.

He cited data from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in which it issued some 3,000 work permits in 2017/2018, mostly in the construction sector, where there is a serious skill deficit.

On the issue of the diaspora, Pandohie encouraged them to invest their remittance in productive endeavours rather than merely to send money for household purchases, arguing that such a move would more result in economic growth for Jamaica.

The theme of this year's Labour Market Forum was 'Harnessing Labour Migration for Development: Improving Governance Mechanisms' and heard presentations from experts in the field from Jamaica, St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. This year's forum focused on labour migration and how it can be an enabler of development.

The forum emphasised governance and data collection and institutional reform for effective and efficient service delivery to migrants. Past fora have examined various topics such as unemployment insurance and labour market reform, inter alia.

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