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Dwindling Number of Nationals Retiring to Jamaica After Living Abroad

MANDEVILLE, Jamaica — In this affluent town in Jamaica’s cool, mountainous interior, Jasmine Pottinger has realized the dream that kept her going while dealing with racism, culture shock and other challenges during almost four decades of working in drizzly London, a city where she never felt entirely accepted.

The 73-year-old retired nurse and her husband, Earl, have retired to the Jamaican parish of her birth. Their pensions and hard-earned savings from Britain afford them a handsomely decorated house with a big balcony and spacious patio looking out on a terraced garden buzzing with hummingbirds and exploding with red and orange flowers that bloom year-round.

“In London, we could never afford all this,” she says as friends enjoy freshly baked banana bread and strong Jamaican coffee served by a domestic helper. “Jamaica is certainly not cheap, but it does offer us a quality of life we enjoy. Plus, we are Jamaican and this is our country. Although I lived in England for 36 years, coming home was always my intention.”

For years, that was the goal of nearly all Jamaicans who left seeking work because of the poor wages and scarcity of opportunity at home. They returned at retirement to take advantage of the sunny Caribbean island’s lower costs and comfortable climate — and at the same time they provided a significant source of foreign currency for the economy.

But to the dismay of the government, fewer and fewer Jamaicans are coming back from London, New York, Toronto and other cities that drew them away as young adults. Over the last 20 years, the annual number of “returning nationals” has dropped by more than half — down to slightly more than 1,000 in 2011, the most recent year for which official figures are available.

Some  overseas Jamaicans are stuck in devalued homes because of the world economic crunch and find their Caribbean paradise is out of reach financially. Others are choosing to live in retirement communities in places like Florida that offer strong personal care services. Often they are put off by Jamaica’s struggle with a high rate of crime that was unimaginable when they left just as the island was shedding its status as a colonial outpost of Britain, a half century ago.

Caribbean islands have long suffered from a “brain drain” that has seen professionals and skilled workers head off to jobs in the U.S., Europe and Canada. Leaders of small islands like Grenada and St. Lucia have lately begun wooing nationals abroad and encouraging them to assist with developing their struggling homelands, but the much more populous Jamaica has the most focused effort to forge relationships with its overseas citizens.

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