Guyana must seriously address “brain drain” – US think tank report

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in a recent report stated that Guyana’s development efforts will continue to be seriously undermined unless concrete and immediate action is taken to address the issue of skilled professionals leaving for “greener pastures”.
The report “The Guyanese Diaspora” which was authored by Michael Matera, Linnea Sandin and Maripaz Alvarez, provided a comprehensive analysis of the Guyanese Diaspora and suggested a framework within which this valuable asset could be utilised for the benefit of both the diaspora and their home country.
With the ongoing discovery of massive oil and gas reserves in Guyana, the country anticipates a significant increase in demand for skilled labour in many sectors beyond energy. Many had expressed hope that the country’s oil boom would contribute to helping to stem the tide of skilled professionals leaving the country.
According to the report, the “brain drain” that has characterised Guyana since its independence has exacerbated Guyana’s chronic shortages of skilled labour.
“Unless the issue of “brain drain” can be addressed through convincing Guyanese with local tertiary degrees to remain in the country and through attracting diaspora members back to the country, development efforts in Guyana will remain undermined,” the authors warned.
They argued that although higher education institutions in Guyana are trying to implement more targeted education and training programmes, the country’s persistent underdevelopment in recent decades and lack of professional opportunities continue to push many Guyanese to migrate overseas in search of better opportunities.
Noting that the Guyanese Diaspora is “an educated and skilled community”, the authors cited the United States where over half of working-age Guyanese are in professional, managerial, or sales occupations. Other Guyanese living in the United States work in the service, construction, and agriculture industries.
They further pointed out that key occupations and industries reported by the Guyanese population in Canada were sales and service; business, finance, and administration; retail trade; and healthcare and assistance.
Guyana’s emigration rate, which skyrocketed in the 1960s due to the hardships created by the then LFS Burnham-led People’s National Congress (PNC) Government, is one of the highest in the world, numbering about 30,000 annually.
According to the report, the first-generation immigrant Guyanese Diaspora today is estimated to be approximately 550,000 worldwide, not including their descendants.
“Since the 1960s, the Guyanese emigrant population has increased due to difficult economic conditions, a tense social and political environment, a weak educational system, high levels of insecurity, and an inefficient healthcare system,” the report stated.
According to the report, favourable immigration laws first in the United Kingdom, and later in Canada and the United States, and better job and education opportunities abroad have helped to motivate high levels of emigration among Guyanese.
It noted that as Caribbean countries established better regional relationships through the Caribbean Community (Caricom) in the late 1980s, another significant wave of skilled Guyanese migrated throughout the Caribbean, providing immigrants with a cultural and environmental context similar to that of Guyana (eg, weather, language, religion, heritage) with greater political and economic stability.
“In the early-1990s, investment in Guyana declined, the economy deteriorated, wages remained extremely low, and the country experienced a period of negative growth. This combination of factors contributed to another wave of emigration, as many skilled and educated citizens such as doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, and technicians chose to leave.”
The report further outlined that the regions with the highest numbers of Guyanese immigrants in 2019 were: North America, accounting for 80 per cent of Guyanese immigrants worldwide; the Caribbean and Latin America, with 12.4 per cent, the majority of whom reside in the Caribbean; and Northern Europe and the United Kingdom, with 5.9 per cent (approximately 30,000). Very small Guyanese diaspora communities also exist in Asia, parts of Africa, and Oceania.
The United States continues to be the most popular destination for emigrating Guyanese. It is estimated that over 400,000 people in the United States are Guyanese or of Guyanese ancestry with most of them residing in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland, though smaller communities exist in other places, including Illinois, Minnesota, and California, according to the report.
Canada, according to the report, has been another popular destination for Guyanese emigrants since the 1980s. In 2016, 88,570 people living in Canada reported Guyana as their country of birth, although some members of the diaspora estimate that Canada could be home to as many as 120,000 to 200,000 Guyanese.
Further, approximately 30,000 Guyanese live in the United Kingdom, mostly in the North East region, the East Midlands, and in the London metro area.
The authors further observed that other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean also have significant populations of Guyanese immigrants. Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados each have small Guyanese diaspora communities ranging in size from 5000 to 15,000.
Additionally, they noted that the number of Guyanese leaving for Venezuela was highest during the years of political instability in Guyana in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching well over 100,000, with some estimates of almost 300,000. However, in recent years, with Venezuela’s slide into instability and crisis, the number of Guyanese in Venezuela has dropped as many Guyanese have returned to Guyana.