The Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in a recent report has stated that Guyana’s emigration rate, which skyrocketed in the 1960s due to the hardships created by the then Peoples National Congress (PNC) Government, is one of the highest in the world, numbering about 30,000 annually.
The report ‘The Guyanese Diaspora’ which was authored by Michael Matera, Linnea Sandin and Maripaz Alvarez, provides a comprehensive analysis of the Guyanese Diaspora and suggests a framework within which this valuable asset could be utilised for the benefit of both the Diaspora and their home country.
According to the report, the first-generation immigrant Guyanese diaspora today is estimated to be around 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 states.
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.
“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 authors outlined.
The report highlights that worldwide labour shortages after World War II meant that both the United Kingdom and the United States recruited large numbers of foreign workers. Canada’s anti-discriminatory policies also allowed for the entry of immigrants looking for education and employment opportunities.
It adds 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 (e.g., 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 authors further point out that in the early-2000s, political and ethnic tensions contributed to a countrywide crime wave, a perceived increase in discrimination and corruption, and a rise in protests, resulting in further emigration.
The report explains that the regions with the highest numbers of Guyanese immigrants in 2019 were: North America, accounting for 80 percent of Guyanese immigrants worldwide; the Caribbean and Latin America, with 12.4 percent, the majority of whom reside in the Caribbean; and Northern Europe and the United Kingdom, with 5.9 percent (approximately 30,000). Very small Guyanese diaspora communities also exist in Asia, parts of Africa, and Oceania.
The report highlights that the United States continues to be the most popular destination for emigrating Guyanese. According to the report, 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.
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. Unlike the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom’s Guyanese immigrant demographic is mostly made up of well-established communities of older generations, given that its biggest immigration waves were in the early-1960s.
The authors 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 5,000 to 15,000.
Additionally, they note 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.