Last week, the prestigious Washington think tank “Centre for Strategic and International Studies” issued a report on “The Guyanese Diaspora”. We present excerpts of their findings below.
Guyana’s emigration rate is one of the highest in the world, numbering about 30,000 annually, a sizable portion for a country with a total population that has never reached one million. 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 health-care system.
Simultaneously, 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. As the number of Guyanese living abroad has increased since the 1960s, the pull factor represented by a growing number of Diaspora family members has only helped to keep the emigration flow steady.
The first-generation immigrant Guyanese Diaspora today is estimated to be approximately 550,000 worldwide, not including their descendants. 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).
Guyana’s diverse ethnic, racial, and religious cultural heritage is reflected in its Diaspora. Settled Guyanese communities abroad often originate from close-knit communities in Guyana, mirroring ethnic and religious clusters in Guyana. Guyanese migrants tend to gravitate to well-established Guyanese communities abroad, which leads to larger population concentrations in relatively few locations. 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.
Canada 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. Approximately 30,000 Guyanese live in the United Kingdom, where unlike the United States and Canada, the immigrant demographic is generally from the 1960s. 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.
Historically, many Indigenous Guyanese have moved across the border between Venezuela and Guyana. The largest concentration of Guyanese in Venezuela has traditionally been centred in the far east of Venezuela in the city of Puerto Ordaz in the state of Bolivar. The number of Guyanese was highest during the years of political instability in Guyana in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching well over 100,000. 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.
The Guyanese Diaspora is an educated and skilled community. In the United States, 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. Key occupations and industries reported by the Guyanese population in Canada were sales and service; business, finance, and administration; retail trade; and health care and assistance.
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 “brain drain” that has characterised Guyana since its independence has exacerbated Guyana’s chronic shortages of skilled labour.
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.