Considering that there are so many Jamaicans living overseas and that they maintain close relations with their family and friends, it is not surprising that Jamaica receives a high level of remittances – more than US$3 billion annually.
Being able to earn abroad and to remit money to their connections in Jamaica helps members of the diaspora, Jamaicans who work on short-term assignments abroad, and their beneficiaries to live a better life and to even surpass their life goals.
The United States accounts for about 70 per cent of remittances to Jamaica, underlying its importance as the preferred place for Jamaicans to migrate. The United Kingdom, Canada and The Cayman Islands follow. And lest we forget, remittances also flow from Jamaica to other countries – amounting to less than US$240 million annually.
For many Jamaican recipients, the money received from abroad is essential for financing many critical expenses including food, shelter, utilities, and education. Not to say it has not contributed to some making themselves too dependent, on balance, most have seen a meaningful change in their lives.
No doubt, recipients have had to learn how to manage money, save, and invest to help them to reduce their dependence on others while at the same time doing what they can to earn for themselves.
Not all of the money remitted to Jamaica is meant for family and friends. Some is meant for investment, for the purchase or construction of homes, and for the establishment of businesses for the benefit of the sender, for example. After all, not everybody wants to live abroad forever or to have all of their most significant assets in one country.
It is important that a proper estate plan is put in place, a will being a common tool, whereever the assets are, to ensure that assets pass to the intended beneficiaries smoothly and effectively without much delay.
It is interesting to see the range of people who choose to emigrate to make their lives better – from the unskilled and low-skilled to top-flight professionals. Recently, my wife and I visited a family member living abroad who is unwell. What struck me most was the very strong presence of Jamaicans among the staff of the health facility she is at – most young people occupying positions in several areas. And I am not talking about Florida.
By and large, most people who chose to migrate believe they made the right decision considering what they have been able to achieve for themselves and the help they have been able to give to significant people in their lives who still reside in Jamaica.
Let us consider what migration has done for some people who have shared their experiences with me. A teacher shared that she and her husband tried very hard to buy a house in Jamaica, but it did not happen. Then within 18 months of migrating to Canada, they were able to achieve that dream. She glowed when she spoke about how much its value has appreciated and rejoiced that her children are doing well.
A former basic school teacher in Jamaica went to the United States on a short-term working arrangement but performed so well that her employer decided that she needed to remain in the US to make life better for herself and her family. With her help and guidance, she was able to settle permanently there. She, too, owns a home, and her children, who later joined her, are doing well professionally. Now retired, she returns to Jamaica periodically and uses those visits to know Jamaica better and enjoy some of its best resorts.
Many professionals, including nurses and teachers, enjoy a standard of living far higher than they could have achieved in Jamaica in those professions – comfortable homes in good neighbourhoods, for example. Home ownership presents itself almost every time; Jamaicans love to be able to own the place where they live.
Retirement planning is serious business for many members of the diaspora. They talk about it and seem to prepare for it. They try also to understand some of the available financial instruments. Perhaps it is the influence and the requirements of the environment in which they live.
The quality of healthcare and the apparent easy access to it seem to make the quality of life quite good: better health, more time to earn and have fun.
Better access to educational opportunities and employment, even for the low-skilled, also contribute to living at a higher standard. But to improve income levels, some resort to multiple jobs.
Not everybody who emigrates realises the goals they set, like the lady who shared her frustration at not being able to own her own home and wants to move to another state in the US to improve her chances of realising that dream.
While we lament losing many of our highly skilled, educated, motivated, and strong people, the country benefits from the foreign exchange they remit, the investments they make here, the contributions they make to family and friends and the spending power it gives them, thereby, boosting the economy.
And while they are chasing and fulfilling their dreams beyond Jamaica’s shores, they are helping others to do the same here.
– Oran A. Hall, author of Understanding Investments and principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers personal financial planning advice and counsel. firstname.lastname@example.org