THE novel coronavirus pandemic and the new work-from-home concept which it spawned formed the perfect backdrop for the establishment of a novel group calling itself Black Expats and Repats in Jamaica (BERJ), created to help expatriates seeking to make Jamaica their home.
It helped that life on the island also offers the infectious reggae beat, year-round sunshine, and the warm, laid-back style of the Jamaican people — the perfect allure for westerners craving a more qualitative way of living.
"We seek to create a cohesive and streamlined process to simplify and expedite the settling process. It is our goal to position Black Expats and Repats in Jamaica as an effective voice for returnees and new residents," said spokesperson for BERJ, Kwame McPherson.
"We are a social entity that organises events and creates an atmosphere of support and camaraderie for returnees and expatriates. We create business developments and employment opportunities for both new/returning residents and Jamaican residents," McPherson added in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
BERJ jumped off the pages of Facebook, where it started in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic, and quickly transitioned into an organisation incorporating a business, social enterprise features, and as a champion of Diaspora-related issues.
Founded by Mississippi-born Clarice Norton, a specialist in digital media development, Black Expats and Repats in Jamaica handles on average 26 new member requests per week and has 3,000 registered members — projected to reach 3,500 people representing 30 countries (the bulk coming from the USA, Great Britain, and Canada) by year end.
Many have roots in Jamaica but some members have no previous connection to the island.
"The group brings not only financial resources but knowledge, experience and expertise across numerous industries and disciplines — a rich source of Diasporan support," said Norton who, like many others, fell in love with Jamaica at first sight .
Aisha "MeeMee" Whyte, a tour operator who has spent the last 13 years in Jamaica, is one such. A key member of the group's leadership, she said she fell in love with Jamaica's culture, which became the main impetus for her relocation.
West Palm Beach, Florida, resident LaTanzia Michelle Jackson, another member of the leadership, said she wanted to live in a place where there was no language barrier, there were more black people, and there was a climate like Jamaica's.
Among its key achievements so far is the establishment of partnerships with reputable businesses and organisations to accommodate the integration process, bringing together like-minded people to assist in the development of Jamaica.
They have also created a Do's & Don'ts of Resettling in Jamaica e-book; a 2021-23 strategic plan; a classified page for member businesses; and organized Zoom meetings to talk about group matters.
McPherson said Jamaica's proximity and accessibility to the US, UK and Canada offered a perfect balance between "holistic living and modernity". Another draw was the presence of strong business and agricultural ties for product development.
Also a member of BERJ's administrative team, McPherson — who was born in the United Kingdom but moved to Jamaica at age seven — said his intention was always to make Jamaica his home, although he lived in and out of Kingston.
Said Norton: "We also looked at the prospects for a better quality of life that may be unattainable living in most western countries, as well as cultural ties and experiences in an English-speaking setting."
BERJ defines an 'expat' (short for expatriate) as an individual living and/or working in a country other than his or her country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work reasons; or one who has relinquished citizenship in their home country to become a citizen of another. A 'repat' is a person who has moved back to his or her native country after emigrating.
BERJ says it's not just interested in people moving here, but that they must come to the island and be sustainable; contribute to the economy; become acclimated with the culture; and understand the ins and outs and how to navigate Jamaica.
The organisation said that about 25 per cent of its membership lives in Jamaica permanently while a similar number does long stretches of time here, and the other 50 per cent are looking to make a living here permanently.
"Those are the ones who want to call Jamaica home, who want to have a tie, who want to have a property housing, employment, those types of things," said McPherson. "Many of them just want to reclaim their culture."
The BERJ team has met with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade to develop partnership with the relevant State apparatus.