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Working in Jamaica

If you thought working in Jamaica meant working in the tourism industry, think again. After years of economic decline, employment in Jamaica is becoming a more attractive prospect for expats and has a promising future. Our guide offers a comprehensive overview.
The national motto, "out of many, one people", also graces Jamaican bills.

While the nation is probably best known for its popular tourist industry and some famous export goods, such as rum or jerk spices, modern Jamaica is becoming more and more diversified. Manufacturing and agriculture are still important for the economy of this island nation — however, present-day Jamaica is just as reliant on services as other developed countries.

The Main Economic Sectors

Jamaica’s services sector is vital to the country’s economy, creating over 70% of the GDP. The most important branch of this is tourism, which itself contributes 15% of Jamaica’s GDP. The country is well known as a tourist hotspot and attracts a large number of visitors each year, which supports local restaurants and bars, as well as hotels and tourist resorts. This has created a booming industry, especially in the resort regions along the northern and western shores of the country.

Another traditional pillar of the national economy is the bauxite (aluminium ore) industry, which has led to the presence of many large international corporations in Jamaica. Historically, Jamaica has always been one of the leading producers of bauxite, but production has recently declined and contributes less than 5% of the national GDP.

However, Jamaica could still be considered a key player in this industry, as it is ranked sixth in the world for bauxite production as of 2016, ahead of far larger countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. Jamaica’s prosperous mining sector also encompasses the production of alumina (aluminium oxide) and gypsum, so it is still an important employer in the country.

Culturally, Jamaica is internationally known for its music industry, and its artists and recording studios are famous all around the world. Recently, the country’s fashion design and filmmaking have also become more popular, with films such as Kingston Paradise (2013) and Out the Gate (2011) achieving much success.

A large proportion of Jamaica’s population works in the unregulated informal sector, which includes everything from family farming to taxi driving, working as domestic help, or street vending. This sector employs a large number of people, many of them low-skilled workers, and it is estimated to generate an economic value equivalent to about 40% of Jamaica’s GDP. Some studies even estimate the value of informal work in Jamaica to be worth as much as 60% of the gross domestic product.

A significant part of Jamaica’s economy, surprisingly, has nothing to do with actually working in the country. Remittances from Jamaicans abroad to their families back home contribute an astonishingly large portion of the national GDP — about 15%, or two billion USD in 2016.

Facing Challenges

The effects of the severe economic crisis that gripped Jamaica in the 1990s can be seen even to this day, as it left the country with an enormous pile of debt. As of March 2017, the GDP-to-debt ratio was around 115%, and debt payments are still an obstacle that prevents the government from investing more money into making working in Jamaica more feasible for both citizens and foreign investors. This could be done by improving the national infrastructure and education system.

However, in the past few years the government has taken steps towards reducing the debt burden, making it possible to invest where money is needed most, as well as improving circumstances for local residents. This has already shown signs of success, as more foreign companies and expats consider working in Jamaica an attractive option.

We have previously established the importance of the bauxite industry for Jamaica’s economy, and the blows that the 2008 financial crisis dealt this sector were harsh. With the prices on the world market plummeting, three of the four main players in Jamaica’s bauxite and alumina sector had to shut down their operations temporarily, resulting in thousands of lost jobs and, in some cases, even lost pensions. The situation has improved since then, with all three plants being back in business, but working in Jamaica’s most important natural resources sector has yet to become as profitable as before.

Future Projects and Incentives

In recent years, there has been heavy investment into new technologies, with the Caribbean’s largest business park planned to open in Kingston in June 2018. There is also a new annual economic summit, the Destination Experience Summit, aimed at accelerating Jamaica’s economic growth, which appears to be improving and is estimated to rise to 2% in 2017.

These developments could provide the much-needed diversification which would enable Jamaica to be less dependent on outside sources such as tourism and remittances. However, the tourism sector has definitely not been neglected in terms of investment : dozens of new resorts, waterparks and similar attractions are underway, which should provide the local workforce with plentiful opportunities of working in Jamaica’s largest sector.

It is clear that the country needs an infrastructural overhaul, and this appears to be another large sector waiting for future investment. With the brain drain that has long plagued the nation, the need for expats working in Jamaica’s various industries will be around for a long time.


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