Overseas Employment Programme hit hard by COVID-19

The Overseas Employment Programme has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of workers who were scheduled to depart the island for Canada and the United States during the month of March declining by 65 per cent and 73 per cent, respectively.

“This came about as the host countries prepared guiding frameworks and established protocols under which the workers could travel,” said Labour and Social Security Minister, Mike Henry, during his contribution to the 2020-2021 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Henry told the House that the hospitality programme was disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The changes came at us fast and furious. Some changes related to immigration policies and procedures, inclusive of border control measures by destination countries. The projected employment figures were impacted towards the end of the last financial year,” Henry said.

He highlighted that there was some irony involved, as while US farmers continued to submit requests for workers, the hotel operators scaled back or shuttered operations. This resulted in the repatriation of more than 500 workers, many of whom were several months in advance of their original return date.

“Regrettably, the hospitality programme will be further impacted by the latest proclamation out of the White House entitled ‘Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present A Risk to the US Labour Market following the Coronavirus Outbreak’.

“This means that no hospitality worker will be able to travel to the United States until after December 31, 2020,” Henry lamented.

In the meantime, he said the ministry is working to improve the delivery of the Overseas Employment Orientation Programme. This has resulted in a collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration to undertake a project entitled ‘Promoting Integrity in International Recruitment and Migrant Skill Development Jamaica’. The programme was reviewed and recommendations made for the improvement of the pre-departure orientation curriculum and delivery modalities for Jamaican migrant workers departing under the Government Overseas Employment Programme.

Henry told the House that during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, 15,463 Jamaicans were employed under the programme.

“These are persons who left our shores and were able to significantly lift themselves and their families, as they move from poverty to prosperity,” Henry said.

He said the majority of those opportunities (16,357) were identified in the Canadian labour market, where a total of 7,880 placements were made under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Programme, and 597 under the Low Skill Programme.

Some 6,355 Jamaican migrant workers travelled to the United States under the Agricultural and Hospitality programmes, of which 4,663 were employed in the agricultural sector, while 1,712 secured employment in the hospitality sector.

Fifteen truck drivers also departed the island for employment in the Canadian Transportation Sector, while 14 persons departed for employment in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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