Migration: Benefit or burden?
Why Sustainable Migration in the Caribbean is an Opportunity for Investment
The economic impact of migration is still often driven by negative perceptions, jeopardizing efforts to adapt migration policies to the new economic and demographic challenges that many countries in the Caribbean are facing. The matter of fact is that movement of people can be crucial for development in a globalizing world and it has potential economic benefits. Therefore, this phenomenon requires a carefully-designed, sustainable policy response, and reports indicate that it needs to be seen as an opportunity for all.
“Paradoxically, migration itself could be a major part of the solution, especially if the social capital that has been created through migration networks could be effectively trans-nationalized to benefit the Caribbean, and if the diaspora were to become a greater resource for the region” (Thomas-Hope, 2002, p.29)
Migrants from the Caribbean: what makes them special
Over the last 60 years, the Caribbean region has been the largest and most highly skilled diasporas in the world. Even though this population is diverse in terms of demographics and destinations, according to the World Bank’s 2011 Migration and Remittance Factbook, in relation to other global diaspora groups, a large portion of Caribbean migrants consists of individuals who are both highly skilled and well educated. Because of that reason, this population acquires more citizenships than other immigrants and they are far less likely to enter the country illegally.
Additionally, Caribbean migrants to the United States build higher relative wealth, thus sending more remittance to their countries of origin. In Canada, a point-based system for immigration was introduced in the 1970s, which favored educated immigrants. These later immigrants tended to be more educated and wealthy, more equipped to invest capital back in the Caribbean region and have a strong connection to their home country.
Are we allowing worthy investments?
As reported in the World Bank publication “Investing Back Home: The Potential Economic Role of the Caribbean Diaspora” (2016), the children of the earliest generations of Caribbean migrants, now middle-aged, tend to be professionals, with higher incomes and ability to invest. Some of them have set up businesses in their home countries such as restaurants, grocery stores, and nursing homes; however, the dominant form of investment has traditionally been housing.
According to the 2013 infoDev Diaspora Survey, one in four members of the diaspora invests in Caribbean real estate, and one in 10 invests in business enterprises in the region. Moreover, 70% mentioned belonging to an affiliation organization and giving back to their home country through remittances and through charity— via both national and alumni associations.
The private sector has a potential leading role in driving economic growth, as well as job generation, in which members of the diaspora could have an important influence on business investment; nonetheless, some have identified difficulties when searching for opportunities for attractive financial returns.
According to the World Bank (2016), the following opportunities for Caribbean governments can enable outreach to the diaspora and generate more benefits:
Market-Catalyzing Activities. To help catalyze greater diaspora investment in Caribbean markets and foster a more attractive business environment for private investment in the region, it is recommended that angel networks and their connections with the diaspora be expanded.
Offer accessible and attractive investment opportunities. In general, most diaspora members don’t invest in infrastructure and other robust projects because these tend to involve extensive and complex procedures. To further improve the climate for diaspora investment in the region, legal and regulatory frameworks in the region should be strengthened and harmonized.
Strengthen its strategy. Most diaspora members don’t know about the opportunities of investment in the Caribbean. The governments need to strengthen the positioning strategies to create awareness of the benefits by designing and implementing a plan to engage this diaspora. An innovative diaspora engagement plan should mobilize this group that has been traditionally oriented toward remittances and should channel a portion of this financial engagement into productive investments.
Facilitate mechanisms to provide investors with fast track resolutions. Most of the transactions in the Caribbean islands can be very bureaucratic and can lack in accountability across both government and nongovernment sectors. Diaspora Offices in the Foreign Affairs Ministries of Caribbean nations need to establish high-level Ombudsmen to receive complaints by the diaspora and help facilitate dispute resolution mechanisms to help appease diaspora investors. Judiciary improvements should be made, so that arbitration institutions can review business disputes in a timely manner.
To improve the investment environment and opportunities for the Caribbean diaspora, it is imperative that all the stakeholders are involved to jointly find viable solutions, and at the same time contribute to surpass the challenges of societies with out-migration tendencies and significant diaspora populations.