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Working in Jamaica

If you thought working in Jamaica did not expand beyond producing rum and being employed in hotels, you need to think again. After a number of years of economic decline, employment in Jamaica is becoming more and more interesting for expats. 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 among laymen for its export goods tied to agriculture, such as rum or jerk spices, and of course its tourism industry, the modern face of Jamaica is becoming more and more diversified. Manufacturing and agriculture are still important for the economy of this island nation. However, modern Jamaica is every bit as reliant on services as other developed countries.

The Main Economic Sectors

More than 70% of the national GDP are created by people working in Jamaica’s services sector, with the most important branch being tourism. The large numbers of visitors the country welcomes throughout the year have created a blooming industry, and especially in the resort regions along the northern and western shores of the country, the livelihood of employees in Jamaica’s hotels, restaurants, and bars depends on tourism.

Another very important national pillar is the bauxite industry. The large, internationally owned corporations in Jamaica’s central areas have made the small island one of the main global players in the aluminum business, trailing far larger countries such as Brazil, for example. In general, working in Jamaica’s mining industries has been a prosperous employment opportunity, as the country also has large reserves of minerals such as gypsum, and various metals in smaller quantities.

The music industry is probably what the nation is culturally best known for around the world, with countless artists working in Jamaica’s many recording studios, exporting their music to audiences all over the globe. Lately, fashion design and filmmaking have also gained popularity, with some large film productions taking advantage of Jamaica’s stunning scenery.

Furthermore, a very large portion of the population is working in Jamaica’s informal sector, which is not part of the governmental revenue stream, but still provides employment to a large number of people. As is the nature of the informal sector, only very few hard facts are available, but some estimates suggest that around 40% of the national GDP are created within the informal sector. Most, but by far not all, people working in the country’s informal sector are low-skilled workers, who often make a living as street vendors, hairdressers, or taxi operators, to name a few.

One main economic pillar has, in fact, nothing to do with actually working in Jamaica. Remittances from Jamaicans abroad to their families in Jamaica contribute an astonishingly large portion of the national GDP — a little over 15%.

Facing Challenges

The severe crisis that gripped Jamaica in the 1990s has left tangible marks even to this day, leaving the country behind with an enormous pile of debt. The GDP to debt ratio is currently at around 130%, and debt payments are still a large hindrance for the government to invest money into making working in Jamaica more feasible for citizens and foreign investors by improving the national infrastructure and education system. In the past few years, however, the government has made some key steps towards alleviating the debt burden, making it possible to invest where money is needed most, and improving the circumstances for the locals. This has already shown some signs of success, as more and more foreign companies and expats consider working in Jamaica an attractive option.

Having established the importance of the bauxite industry for people working in Jamaica, the blows that the 2009 crisis dealt this sector were quite 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 their pensions. The situation has relaxed since then, but working in Jamaica’s most important natural resources sector has yet to become as profitable as before.

Future Projects and Incentives

There has been some heavy investment into new technologies, mainly in the form of ICT parks being planned and opened in the vicinity of Kingston and the St. James parish. This could prove to be the much needed diversification that can help make Jamaica less dependent on outside sources such as tourism and remittances. Which is not to say that the tourism sector has 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.

We have hinted at the infrastructural overhaul that the country sorely needs. As far as estimates can tell, this is another large sector for future investment, and with the brain drain that has long plagued the nation, the need for expats working in Jamaica’s infrastructural projects will surely not tail off.


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