JAMAICA has one of the highest rates of migration of persons with tertiary education among Commonwealth countries, according to figures made public yesterday at a conference in Kingston looking at the effects of migration.
Dr Cyrus Rustomjee, director of economic affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat, told the conference that data from a 2007 study showed that 85 per cent of Jamaicans who have migrated are tertiary graduates. The data also showed high rates from other countries in the region, including Guyana at 89 per cent, Grenada 85 per cent, Trinidad and Tobago 79 per cent, Belize 67 per cent and Dominica 64 per cent.
The study placed migration from Samoa at 76 per cent.
Speaking at the opening of the three-day conference of experts on the development benefits and costs of migration on small states at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in Kingston, Dr Rustomjee said the loss of skilled migrants such as nurses and teachers was countered by issue of remittances, which are "a very valuable source of household income for small states".
Noting that small states receive a much higher percentage of remittances per capita than other developing countries, Dr Rustomjee said remittances to Tonga, Lesotho and Guyana account for 40, 30 and 26 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) respectively.
Dr Rustomjee, while pointing out the negatives of migration, challenged conference participants, which included, government officials, policymakers, academics and representatives of regional and international organisations, to come up with practical measures to maximise the benefits from migration, while minimising the downsides.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Arnaldo Brown, in his address, said migration should not be viewed only as "brain drain" but "brain circulation" as well because skilled migrants also contribute to the development of their homeland.
He said with Jamaica's improved technology, migrants "don't physically have to return to the country for their intellectual powers to be harnessed in addressing the problems that face the country and unlocking the development potential".
Brown — who said that Jamaica was currently developing a national policy and plan of action on international migration — acknowledged the need for "an improved dialogue and partnership between the diaspora and government".
Describing the benefits of the diaspora community in social, financial, and human and cultural capital as "virtually immeasurable", the state minister said important networks developed as a result of migration "facilitated the flow of information, skills, financial resources, values, and ideas".
He said, for example, in 2011 there were 135 medical missions to Jamaica from the diaspora "without any tight coordination from the state".
Brown, who pointed out that remittances to Jamaica amounted to US$2 billion annually in last four years, promised to "implement strategies that will reduce transaction cost in remittances as well as safeguard the human rights and social protection of our migrants".