JIS News

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT) is stepping up efforts to resolve some of the worrying concerns of Jamaicans overseas and to strengthen linkages among Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
Plans are well advanced for a major conference to be held in June that will target influential Jamaicans residing mainly in the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US) and Canada.
State Minister in the Ministry, Senator Delano Franklyn, told JIS News in a recent interview, that the conference aimed, first of all, to update nationals overseas on specific aspects of national development. “Secondly, it will signal to them that we do not underestimate their importance and thirdly, that we want to create a mechanism to facilitate their continuous contribution and involvement,” he indicated.
There are approximately five million Jamaicans living around the globe. Just over half of that number reside in Jamaica. A Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) study last year reported that in the last 50 years, at least one million Jamaicans migrated to the UK, the US and Canada, 59 per cent of whom settled in the US. Their contribution to Jamaica’s economy and growth over the years has been phenomenal and continues to grow.
For example, remittances have grown exponentially over the last 10 years, rising to US$1.3 billion last year, which exceeds the amount earned in the same period through tourism. Cash grants and donations from Jamaican associations and groups overseas also bring untold relief each year to local schools, hospitals, welfare organizations, church groups and individuals.
In New York alone, there are at least 50 known Jamaican alumni associations that actively lobby support to provide grants, gifts and other assistance for their alma mater back home.
These groups, once organized and unified, can accomplish much more for those they are trying to serve here in Jamaica. So too can the many influential Jamaicans who have risen to positions of prominence and who are able to influence the choice of their respective government leaders and help to determine what issues are given attention in their houses of parliament.
Nowhere is this influence more strongly demonstrated than in the UK, where there are some 36 marginal constituencies won largely on the basis of the Caribbean national support that exist in those constituencies. “The dominant player in those Caribbean populated areas are Jamaicans,” said Senator Franklyn, “but the power these groups have to positively affect Jamaica’s development does not now manifest itself.”
A similar view was expressed by Jamaican-born New Jersey Council Woman, Elsie Foster-Dublin, at a symposium last August, titled: The Jamaican Diaspora – Reciprocal Relations the Way Forward.
She said it was imperative that successful Jamaicans abroad be engaged in finding ways to support their homeland. She called for increased communication between Jamaica and its Diaspora, the provision of a clearing house for humanitarian aids, incentives to encourage investment in the country and an educational alliance between academia and college students in New Jersey and those in the universities in Jamaica.
That symposium was a precursor to the ministry’s conference scheduled for June 16 and 17 at the Jamaica Conference Centre. Its theme will be: The Jamaican Diaspora: Unleashing the Potential.
The planning committee, chaired by Grace, Kennedy and Company’s Douglas Orane, has among its objectives: to strengthen the linkages among Jamaican communities overseas; to create the platform for increased business contracts between Jamaicans at home and abroad; to create a platform to comprehensively involve more overseas Jamaicans in the political, social and cultural life of Jamaica; to elicit ideas from the Diaspora community for the formulation of public policy and to see the formation of high-powered lobby groups in the US, Canada and the UK to assist Jamaica in international trade.
Three hundred Jamaicans are expected to attend, including 50 each from Canada and the UK and 100 each from the US and Jamaica. A number of local agencies are expected to speak to some of the pressing issues that have been frequently raised by Jamaicans overseas. For example, senior representatives from the Passport Office will address concerns about time delays and other problems accessing passports through Jamaican embassies abroad, while staff from the Registrar General’s Department, the Titles Office and the Customs Department, are expected to speak about ways they could make it easier for Jamaicans living abroad to utilize their services.
Interactive discussions will seek out measures that could be adopted to reduce the hassles faced by returning residents, and for second and third generation Jamaicans to feel connected with the island. Thorny issues such as the deportee situation and measures being taken to stem crime and violence here and abroad, will also be on the table for discussion.
Several other agencies are expected to attend to disseminate information on how overseas Jamaicans could access services here and JAMPRO representatives will speak on possibilities for investment, expanding further on discussions that have been ongoing between the Jamaican overseas community and the foreign ministry.
“While we remain grateful for the support.there continues to be a need for even greater levels of participation in our economy, through direct investment,” Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, K.D Knight, told several community organizations, Jamaican philanthropic and service groups in Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland in the US recently.
Another pressing subject on the table will be the issue of donations and what steps the ministry is taking to make it easier for donors to clear their goods through customs.
Currently, the government is developing a policy, which, according to Senator Franklyn, would make it much easier for persons wanting to donate items and will “rid the system of bureaucratic bungling, which act as an inhibiting factor.”
“It is going to be important to have the input of all stakeholders and we are hoping that by the end of this year, we will be able to have something (a policy) which will guide the overseas community, our missions abroad, guide customs and the ministries here in Jamaica (about) what are the requirements when we are facilitating persons who wish to make donations,” he told JIS News.
Another expected outcome of the two-day deliberations is the institution of a Jamaica Day, that will be separate and apart from the Jamaica Independence Day and the Jamaica Emancipation Day celebrations, and will not be a public holiday.
“The idea is to identify a particular day, which can be used to commemorate and celebrate Jamaican together, so that Jamaicans in the UK, Canada and the US, who want to put on activities on that day can do so,” the State Minister stated.

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