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Should I migrate, or should I stay?

By Francis Wade
Most young professionals in Jamaica at some point have the choice of beginning the process of migrating to the U.S., Canada, the UK or another wealthy country. They might be encouraged by the idea of a more prosperous life, or discouraged by what they believe is a difficult life here in Jamaica.

As someone who left Jamaica at age 18 to live and work in the U.S. for 20 years, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot of confused thinking about the benefits and costs of working as a professional in that country, in particular.

The picture that gets painted of the U.S. in the popular media is far removed from the day to day reality of working in that country, and almost impossible to clearly discern from a living room in Montego Bay or a cinema in Kingston.

Also, overseas Jamaicans returning to visit their homeland also play their part in unintentionally misleading their friends at home. Their psyche at the point of return for vacation is marked by a desire to prove to others that they made the right choice to leave. They also tend to return to visit at the point when they can afford the plane fare, some clothes and enough gifts to demonstrate that their lives are indeed better off.

At the same time, those who have worked abroad quietly know the transition they had to make to become acquainted with the racial issues, long hours and significant commutes that they often have to deal with.

What should a young professional consider once they have decided to consider migrating from Jamaica?

Their Frame of Mind
A Jamaican professional who desires to leave because "they are sick of Jamaica" should probably work first on their attitude and frame of mind. There are as many things to be happy about in the USA as there are in Jamaica, and the same applies to things that make us unhappy. The act of leaving out of a sense of disgust only transports a disgusted person via airplane from one location to another.

A professional does well to ask themselves how they can get to a place where they can be happy anywhere they go. Someone who is happy anywhere is more likely to be successful when they migrate than someone who is well practiced in harbouring negative feelings.

The workplace in the U.S. is much less tolerant of workers who donít display the right attitude, and the laws make it much easier for them to be fired. An employee who has the right attitude has a much better chance of doing well, and the emotional intelligence that is needed to do well can actually be developed long before leaving Jamaica.

Their Reasons
While the majority of Jamaicans living abroad tell each other that they would love to return, the American lifestyle and its obligations make it extremely difficult for them to do so. This failure to successfully follow through on their intentions is sometimes disastrous to children that are effectively abandoned, parents that are separated from their offspring's families and careers that are effectively terminated.

It is critical that a young professional be very clear about why they are migrating, and that they create a game plan for themselves and their loved ones that starts with their reasons for leaving in the first place. Are they planning to do a temporary migration (following in the footsteps of most Jamaicans) where they return to Jamaica to live when they have sufficiently "made it?" Or, are they planning to stay permanently, hoping to be accepted as an African American, Asian American or White American?

Certainly, a Jamaican who sneaks into the US and lives illegally is not following a realistic plan.

A professional who moves to the US without understanding whether or not their training and education will be accepted is also not planning properly.

Once a plan of any kind has been formulated, they would do well to share it with overseas professionals in their field to discover where the weaknesses and flaws might lie.

The Work Culture
Professionals who are thinking of leaving Jamaica need to understand what the work culture in America is like, and how it is quite different from the one to which they have become accustomed.

They need to know that ethnicity plays an important part of their identity in the work-place, and that they might spend a great deal of time talking over, thinking about and focusing on their race and how it plays a part in their daily work.

Also, they will need to be able to adapt themselves to a different kind of work ethic, where part of the price of being successful generally means putting in very long hours on the job. Studies have shown that Americans are some of the most productive workers in the world, mostly by virtue of the number of hours they work per year, and the short vacations that they take relative to other developed countries.

Furthermore, the training and education that is prized so highly while they live in Jamaica can often turn out to be valued quite differently in the US. A certification, degree or job history can be found to be virtually useless in the eyes of a college, human resource department or headhunter. A professional who is migrating needs to know the intricate details of what it takes to practice their profession in the U.S. successfully.

For example, doctors trained at UWI migrating to the U.S. need to apply to a certifying board that offers exams only twice a year. The process of being certified can take anywhere between 1-3 years.

The next step involves applying for a one year residency, which may involve travelling to as many as ten hospitals before being accepted. After the one year residency, a doctor can practice medicine as a General Practitioner if they pass their board exams. Specializing in a given field requires up to another 2 years internship, and further exams.

A doctor migrating to the U.S. who understands the system before leaving can cut years of time and thousands of dollars out of this process, and be able to earn an income much earlier. Many doctors are forced to take any job they can find to make ends meet, while they wait for applications, exams and placement to be completed.


A young professional who is trying to decide whether or not to migrate needs to understand the impact their attitude, reasons for leaving and differences in work-culture will have on their success if they decide to leave.

Coming next week: The phases of culture shock that a young professional migrating to the U.S. can expect to experience.

The author is the owner of Framework Consulting, a firm specializing in conducting high stake interventions for Caribbean companies, and the author of FirstCuts monthly e-zine.

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