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By Camila Idrovo, Jermaine Grant, and Julia Romani Yanoff- While most countries experiencing massive economic losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guyana’s economy boomed, with a real GDP growth of 43.5 percent in 2020. This growth is a result of major discoveries in the oil and gas sector and indirect impacts on other sectors, including tourism, services, and manufacturing. The trend is expected to continue with an estimated real GDP growth of 47.9 percent in 2022, making Guyana’s economic growth the fastest in the world.
To sustain its economic growth, Guyana is estimated to need at least 160,000 additional workers. Even if the country were to harness all unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged Guyanese workers, domestic supply would only amount to 63,500 workers. As a result, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that Guyana will need to attract, at a minimum, 100,000 workers to realise its full growth potential. This is particularly the case given Guyana’s loss of most of its skilled workforce.
Guyana lacks a comprehensive migration policy to address evolving migration trends and meet the country’s needs. As a result, IOM and other international actors have recommended that Guyana establish an information center to conduct regular labor market and skills gap analyses, while taking stock of the skillsets of migrants already in the country and in CARICOM neighbors. In addition, there have been calls to modernise the immigration system by creating digital databases, establishing ethical recruitment procedures, and developing measures to regularize the status of migrant workers, who tend to be concentrated in the informal economy. The country also lacks a national immigrant integration program, with such efforts largely carried out by nongovernmental actors.
Tapping Labor Pools
To meet its labor needs, Guyana could most directly turn to three major labor supply sources: the Guyanese diaspora, Venezuelan migrants, and CARICOM nationals. First, given the size of the highly skilled diaspora, the Guyanese government could encourage the return of diaspora members through the development of robust return incentives. Guyana already has a Remigrant Scheme, which provides tax exemptions for the import of personal items and vehicles by Guyanese nationals wishing to return. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has recommended that Guyana build on these efforts by developing a “Guyana Global” online platform to harness the human capital of the diaspora, facilitate the exchange of expertise, and identify opportunities within public, private, and civil-society sectors to attract greater human, social, and financial capital. IOM and the Guyanese government launched a Diaspora Skills Mapping project in 2012; no data have been made public, though, on the skillsets of the diaspora and its relevancy for local needs.
The Venezuelan population already in Guyana also represents an untapped asset. As of 2021, 64 percent of Venezuelan migrants reported being unemployed, and those who were employed tended to be concentrated in informal, low-wage work. Though Venezuelans with stay permits can work independently, a work permit by way of employer sponsorship is required for formal, dependent employment. This process has been widely out of reach for many Venezuelans with limited professional contacts in Guyana.
The RCBG migrant support project coordinator told the authors that officials increasingly are requiring a valid passport for migrants to obtain a work permit—a document that many Venezuelans do not have. At the same time, language barriers and skills gaps also prevent Spanish-speaking Venezuelans from fully integrating into the English-speaking Guyanese workforce. Local nongovernmental organizations including RCBG, Blossom Inc., and Hope Foundation, along with the Pan American Development Foundation, offer language courses and skills trainings to Venezuelans in Guyana.
CARICOM represents another major source of potential labor, which could help Guyana meet its worker shortage while also boosting the economic growth of the Caribbean overall, which has struggled amid the pandemic. Though intraregional mobility is institutionalized through the CSME, numerous employers are unaware of the skills categories established under the policy regime and the process for hiring CARICOM nationals. In addition, CARICOM migrants are required to present extensive supporting documentation, including travel documents, police clearance, and academic certificates to obtain a skills certificate allowing for employment under the CSME.
For CARICOM migrants wanting to set up a business in Guyana, the paperwork is often complex and compliance requirements are at times inconsistently applied, local sources told the authors, speaking on condition of anonymity. Increasingly, public- and private-sector experts are noting that to fully leverage the potential of intraregional mobility, CARICOM and its Member States will have to streamline and institutionalise academic accreditation, business registration, and skills certificate processes, as well as build partnerships among regional chambers of commerce, universities, and businesses across CARICOM countries to link employment opportunities to skills. (Migration Policy Institute)