01.01.06. Migration | Jamaica

01.01.06. Migration | Jamaica

23 Sep 2022

The net population movement between 1965 and 2020 in 5-year intervals is presented below (IOM, 2018).

Table 2. Net Migration Rates (per 1000) in Jamaica

Years 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020*
Net Migration -17.5 -18.7 -10.7 -11.0 7.4 -13.8 -9.3 -5.8 -5.8 -7.4 -5.8 -5.6

 Source: Adapted from (IOM, 2018). Net migration rates in Jamaica (table 1).


The net migration is calculated as the rate of the number of persons returning to the country (inflow) minus the rate of the number of persons leaving the same country (outflow). Higher levels of outflow than inflow, as indicated in the table above, results in negative rates. Jamaica’s trend indicates a dominant migration movement.

Internal Migration:

The 2011 Population Census revealed that 26.4% of the population lived outside their parish of birth. It also reported that 55% of internal migrants were female, with the majority in the 20 to 29-year age group (STATIN, 2017).

International Migration

Jamaican international emigrants primarily move to the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Canada, often in search of jobs, higher education or to be with relatives. There are several Caribbean communities in these countries (such as Brixton in the United Kingdom) which are heavily influenced by Jamaican migrants. During 2013, a total of 24,744 persons migrated to these countries, which was 4.4% below the 2012 estimate (STATIN, 2017).

Returning migrants from these countries who return to Jamaica to retire in later life comprise an interesting segment of the local population. While they may bring with them some accumulated wealth and expertise, they may feel isolated having not lived at ‘home’ for several decades and may have difficulties adjusting, which is a common, internationally observed phenomenon among returning migrants (Govia et al., 2012).

The 2018 Migration in Jamaica country profile provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM, 2018), presents a thorough account of Jamaican immigration and emigration patterns, both historical and current. The IOM profile details that immigrants in Jamaica are classified either as voluntary returnees (returning residents), forced returnees (deportees), Commonwealth citizens and other foreign nationals or aliens. Between 2007 and 2011, all these categories of migrants totalled 56,508 as compared to 68,201 in the later period, 2012–2016. This reflected a sizeable increase of approximately 11,700 persons arriving in Jamaica for purposes of work and/or residence.

The IOM (2018) also details international and regional emigration patterns of Jamaicans. It notes that, at present, major destinations for Jamaicans are the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, within the Caribbean region, major emigrant destinations include Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Sint Maarten (Dutch part of the island), Bermuda, and Curacao. The year 2006 saw an unusually high rate of emigration of over 29,000 persons, approximately 25,000 of which went to the United States.

Jamaican migrants to the United States were predominantly persons of working age, and persons under the age of 18, which is considered to contribute to the loss of potential from Jamaica’s workforce. Between this increase in 2006 and 2015, Jamaica saw a decrease in migrants to the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom.

The IOM (2018) report, therefore, reflects the phenomenon of ‘brain drain’ experienced by many Caribbean countries with regular emigration patterns of working aged persons who go abroad for education or better job opportunities and tend to stay there. Their home country then loses out on their economic contributions, expertise which otherwise may support country development and income taxes. This trend may also affect dependency ratios and fertility rates (Mishra, 2006).

For example, traditional migration patterns have resulted in emigration of health professionals to private institutions in Canada and the United States, which have had a  significant impact on the Jamaican health sector’s human resource capacity since the 1990s, creating gaps or deficiencies in the labour market (IOM, 2018).

In July 2019, the Minister of Health and Wellness indicated that Jamaica was in preliminary negotiations with Nigeria to help close the nursing gap, as well as in agreements with China, Cuba, and the UK to help meet the need for nurses and other healthcare professionals. In 2018, Jamaica lost 500 nurses to emigration, and in 2019, there was a need for at least 1,000 nurses across the public health system (Jamaica Observer, 2019).


Govia, I. O. (2012). Angle of View: Heterogeneity within the Caribbean Community in the US, 2005-2007. Social and Economic Studies, 37-68.

IOM. (2018). Migration in Jamaica – A Country Profile 2018. Available from: https://publications.iom.int/books/migration-jamaica-country-profile-2018#:~:text=

Jamaica Observer. (2019). Managed Migration Strategy Needed to Mitigate Effects of Nursing Brain Drain. February 19, 2019. https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/managed-migration-strategy-needed-to-mitigate-effects-of-nursing-brain-drain/

Mishra, P. (2006). Emigration and Brain Drain: Evidence from the Caribbean. IMF Working Papers, 06(25), 1. https://doi.org/10.5089/9781451862850.001

Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN). (2017). Total Population by Broad Age Groups and Parish, 2011. https://statinja.gov.jm/Census/PopCensus/TotalPopulationbyBroadAgeGroupsandParish.aspx