Tag Archives: education

“A View From The Trenches: The Trinidad Economy As Reflected In Visa Applicants”

The below is a fascinating Wikileaks cable from 2008, sent by the US embassy in POS to the secretary of state in DC and outlining the average economic and educational status of applicants for US visas. I’ve added any bold.



While not completely scientific, information provided in visa interviews opens a window on the local economy. Recognizing the limitations of such information, but also its worth, the Embassy conducted a study involving 218 randomly chosen visa applicants. The data revealed income disparities and large informal and state economic sectors.




¶2. (SBU) Survey data was derived from 218 randomly chosen visa applicants. Data collected included gender, monthly income, household income, savings, employer, position, sector, housing status, and education level. The labor sector breakdown of those in the survey (which perhaps not coincidently largely mirrors GOTT Central Statistical Office estimates) was: -Clerical: 11% -Services: 9% -Security: 7% -Financial: 7% -Education: 6% -Energy: 5% -Transport: 5% -Health: 4% -Construction: 4% -Real Estate: 3% -Engineering: 3% -Utilities: 2% -Law: 2% -Self Employed: 14% -Retired: 18% Including companies in which the government invests and controls, either directly or indirectly, 47% of those sampled can be considered to work for the GOTT.

¶3. (U) Median annual income across the sample was $17,988 (all figures in this cable are in USD), broadly consistent with published reports of T&T per capita GDP of around $16,000. Men (43% of survey) earned an average of $23,412, while women (57% of survey) earned only $13,398. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher comprised 21% of applicants and earned a median wage of $28,850. Seventy-two percent of applicants owned their own home, either via a conventional mortgage or through inheritance. It is worth mentioning that 28% of the sample was denied visas; their median wage was $10,125.



¶4. (U) Not surprisingly, those in the energy sector enjoyed the highest median salaries. Although only 5% of the population is directly employed in energy, the median income for that group of survey applicants was $25,935, over $8,000 more than the overall sample median. Comments from persons in that sector, though, suggest a looming slowdown that may impact on future salary stability or growth.



¶5. (U) The median wage for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher in our study is over $10,000 more than the overall median wage of $17,988. This makes manifest the value of higher education, a point apparently not lost on the GOTT. One recent GOTT effort that is making a quantifiable impact on the society as a whole is the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) program. Designed to provide an outlet to slow intellectual brain drain, GATE provides free tuition to qualified students at a variety of T&T based universities and training centers in exchange for a three year commitment from beneficiaries to work in the country after graduation rather than depart for opportunities abroad.

¶6. (SBU) Though other factors may be involved, including concern over visa rejections, the impact of the program seems to have been immediate — student visa numbers for U.S. study have declined between 5-10% a year over the past 3 years as more and more T&T students and parents choose the substantial financial benefits of free tuition. In addition, as a result of GATE, higher education is now available to lower income families. It should be noted, though, that some GOTT programs do exist to provide funding for education abroad (e.g., 170 students are in the U.S., and 95 in Canada, on government scholarships).

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¶7. (SBU) At 14%, the self-employed comprise the largest single segment of our study, with a median wage of $16,661, slightly less than the overall median. The self-employed work in a variety of areas, but the sector is dominated by building contractors, food service vendors/caterers, small shop or market owners and clothing resellers. (NOTE: Self-employed accountants, architects, engineers and doctors, for the purposes of this study, were accounted for in their respective fields of expertise.) While some register their businesses with the GOTT, many seem to not report income accurately. Those whose businesses are not registered or who do not pay taxes are included, by definition, in the informal economy.

¶8. (SBU) In a conversation with an official from the GOTT Board of Inland Revenue (BIR), CONOFF inquired about tax compliance rates for small businesses. The official indicated that tax compliance and accurate income reporting for the self-employed was largely non-existent and unenforceable from a resource perspective, mentioning that the BIR focused on large firms, multi-nationals, and larger family-owned concerns for revenue collection.

On being the change I wish to see (and freaking out about it)

When I first left home, six years ago, I was resolved not to come back.

Why should I? Trinidad, I declared, held nothing but bacchanal and botheration.

I felt stifled there, and bored. I didn’t fit in. I needed to leave.

So I left, and like so many other West Indians abroad, discovered that I didn’t quite fit in anywhere else either.

But at least here – France, the UK, the US – I was challenged and stimulated and free.

And now I’m going back.

Because I’ve spent the past half a decade evangelizing about the need for Caribbean nationals to return to our home countries and give back to the islands that so desperately need our talent, intelligence and experience.

Because I don’t want to be one of those outraged expats who opines on everything and changes nothing.

Because I’m tired of the cold.

Because my love is there.

But I’m terrified.

Because my work, which I utterly adore, is here. Because here I have achieved, and scaled heights otherwise impossible to conceive.

Because my life, for the past six years, has been here.

And because I’m not sure I can change anything, really. And I’ll probably feel stifled there, and bored.

Because, as Miss Melanie Johncilla wrote in a letter to the editor (via Jumbie’s Watch), of “the complacency of a society, the sheer acceptance that comes along with ‘the Trini way.'”

We sit as a people and just accept. We accept poor customer service because “that’s what you go get in this country.” We accept spates of violence, we accept fear, we accept pedantic “medical researchers” who prolong petty spats for the sheer sake of it.

We accept domestic violence, we accept sexism, we accept old white man a the father, we accept our position as developing and we accept inferiority.

We are a nation of lazy acceptors. If the waitress is talking on her cellphone while serving me, “that’s just how things are in this country; we not in America, you know.”

But kick up a fuss and try to educate and move this beloved Trinidad forward—I dare you. Because all you get in response is: “Oh gosh, relax nah lady. We in Trinidad. Calm yuhself. That’s how things does be.”

And yes, those are some of the factors that pushed me to leave. Those “narrow minds” that continue to insist that we “are not old enough, not old-school enough, and not ‘Trini’ enough.”

Isn’t that an irony? They feel they cannot affect change as they would want to because “it’s Trinidad, nepotism rules, is who you know and what hue you have.”

And that attitude is pervasive, and pernicious. The TrinBago Blog also reproduced this letter, which prompted “ponnoxx” to retort:

Trinidad and Tobago’s laid back mentality is that which makes us unique. However, I must admit that there are departments which need to be tightened such as healthcare but our society is what others aspire to reach. Trinbago’s society heads towards happiness and not towrds efficiency like the US. It is not necessarily a bad thing. The reason why we are experiencing so much crime is (assumingly) as a direct result of deportation. Criminals who are seasoned in a more rigid efficient society. They literally brought back more efficient criminals into our society. Brain Drain for us and they have a Criminal drain straight in our frontyard. I Love my country just how is.


It’s the same for Jamaicans abroad, according to a young lady who wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner (via Francis Wade’s blog):

During my studies overseas, I also encouraged my fellow Jamaicans, who were in various graduate fields all over the United States, to return home after completing their studies, as their skills would be very beneficial to Jamaica’s development.

This was done in an effort to help secure Jamaica’s future, as I am very passionate about my country and its success, and I am hoping to become intimately involved in the future of Jamaica.

They, however, expressed that they had no desire to return home with the escalation of crime and violence and economic turmoil. They also strongly believe that with their educational background, Jamaica would not be able to offer them suitable jobs and compensation.

So, when are we going to do something about this increasing epidemic of our educated Jamaican people who have no desire to return home because of this lack of jobs and compensation? When are statements such as, “You are overqualified for the position”, going to be obsolete? Are we forever to remain in the shadows of developed countries and continuously lose our educated and skilled people to them?

I have very high hopes and dreams for Jamaica, but how can I be of assistance if I am not given the opportunity to do so? How can I effectively convince my fellow educated and qualified Jamaicans to return home and help to develop our home if I cannot even get job interviews?

Yes. Yes. Exactly.

But I’m going back, and taking it one baby step at a time.

We’ll see how it goes.