Immigration remains important to Jamaica under the Biden-Harris Administration

Immigration remains important to Jamaica under the Biden-Harris Administration

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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Migration , as it always has, will be one of the important issues for Jamaicans, both here and in the United States, when it comes to the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and its immigration policy.

Unemployment and persistent poverty have been the main drivers of migration by Jamaicans since slavery was abolished in 1834.

Jamaica has never achieved full employment, although it is to be noted that prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, joblessness had been at record lows.

Sociologists have pointed to the deliberate prevention of people from getting government-owned land under British colonial Government, the objective being to keep the sugar plantations supplied with cheap labour.

Full employment has been accepted as a goal of macroeconomic policy and as an indicator of economic health, as well as an indication that the economy is operating at its full potential. This is still an ideal which might never be attained. Usually two to three per cent unemployment is regarded as “full employment”.

The main economic motive for migration is to seek jobs or more remunerative employment. People who are earning enough to support themselves and their families at a standard of living they find acceptable hardly migrate to foreign countries. When there is migration, on a large scale it is a sure sign of economic failure.

Many economies pass through periods when there is heightened migration. If this persists over a long period, the economy is a failed economy characterised by persistent poverty, persistent unemployment and persistent migration.

Jamaicans have been migrating for almost 200 years. For over 100 years the commodity that was exported was manual, unskilled labour. After World War II, some semi-skilled and skilled labour was also exported.

Unskilled manual labour left because of the compulsion of unemployment and extreme poverty and the semi-skilled and skilled labour left in search of a higher standard of living, both having both negative and positive effects on the society and economy of Jamaica.

While there is 'brain drain' of skilled personnel, the export of unskilled labour eases the unemployment in the labour market and generates a stream of remittances in the form of foreign exchange that has funded investment and social expenditure, possibly preventing mass social unrest.

In recent years, remittances have become the second largest foreign exchange earning after tourism, making migration an important contributor to the Jamaican economy, while releasing much of the unemployment pressures.

That explains why Jamaicans have such an interest in the immigration policy of the new Administration. Chain migration which is responsible for the bulk of Jamaican migrants in the US, is not a favourite of the outgoing Administration.

Some Jamaicans are even betting that with the vice president-elect, Mrs Kamala Harris, being born of a Jamaican father that she would use her considerable influence to help the country.

Whether this proves to be so or not, only time will tell.


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