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By Camila Idrovo, Jermaine Grant, and Julia Romani Yanoff- More than 55 percent of Guyanese nationals have left the country for destinations abroad. This emigration represents a sizable share of the country’s skilled workforce, with 90 percent of Guyanese with tertiary-level education and 40 percent of those with a secondary education living and working abroad. This brain drain, viewed with alarm within the country, is mitigated to an extent by the personal remittances sent by emigrants and others to families and friends in Guyana.
Venezuelans in Guyana
Given Guyana’s recent history as a primarily migrant-sending country, its migration infrastructure is fairly nascent. Amid the ongoing deterioration of social, political, economic, and humanitarian conditions in neighboring Venezuela, where more than 6 million people have left the country since 2014, Guyana has experienced increasing Venezuelan arrivals since 2018. The Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) estimates that as of May 2022, 24,500 Venezuelan migrants were resident in Guyana, totaling approximately 3 percent of the country’s overall population.
Most Venezuelan migrants enter Guyana by sea or river and are concentrated in the populous host communities of Port Kaituma, Marbaruma, and Bartica. The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 2,500 Venezuelans in Guyana are of the Warao indigenous group. Venezuelan migrants in Guyana are among the most vulnerable, with their education and employment levels pre-migration far below those of their counterparts who have headed to Peru, Ecuador, Chile, or Argentina, for example.
While most Venezuelans hold temporary legal status, 75 percent of those surveyed for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) in 2021 worked in the informal economy and tend to be concentrated in sectors with low pay and difficult working conditions, including in informal commerce (54 percent), construction (18 percent), and domestic work (7 percent).
In response to the rise in Venezuelan migration, Guyana in 2018 established an interagency body called the Multi-Agency Coordinating Committee for Addressing the Influx of Venezuelan Migrants into Guyana. This committee, comprised of representatives of UN agencies such as IOM and UNHCR along with government agencies such as the Immigration Department and ministries including Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and Human Services and Social Security, is responsible for coordinating the country’s approach to Venezuelan arrivals.
Though Guyana does not have a national asylum and refugee law or a government-led asylum procedure, it has established an open-door policy allowing unrestricted entry of Venezuelans on humanitarian grounds at ports of entry and the provision of an extension of stay status that is renewable every three months, with no restriction on the number of renewals permitted. As a result of this approach, Venezuelans in Guyana have higher regularization rates than in some neighboring countries, with only 13 percent reporting having an irregular status as of 2021, according to the IOM DTM.
Nonetheless, local civil-society representatives note that the requirement to renew the extension of stay every three months can cause logistical hurdles for migrants, especially those living in remote areas, who must gather extensive paperwork, miss work, and travel long distances to renew their status. Moreover, the migrant support project coordinator for the Roman Catholic Bishop in Guyana (RCBG) said migrants in some cases have been asked to pay a fee of around 5,000 Guyanese dollars each (equivalent to approximately USD 24) to renew their extensions of stay. There are also few procedures allowing Venezuelans to transition from temporary status to long-term residency.
CARICOM Nationals and Free Movement
Though much attention has centered on recent Venezuelan in-migration, most arrivals to Guyana come from the Caribbean, mainly from Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Barbados, and Haiti (country-specific data are scarce, however). In fact, nationals of most CARICOM Member States (except for Haiti) are entitled to free movement, with an automatic six-month stay on arrival.
Further, these CARICOM nationals can be granted an indefinite stay in a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) state, once they are identified as being within a defined skills category, such as university graduates, members of the media, athletes, musicians, registered nurses, trained teachers, and the self-employed. Though this free movement was established in 2001, it was not until recently that migrants from these countries began coming to Guyana in significant numbers, in part a result of improving economic prospects. Caribbean arrivals recorded at Guyanese ports of entry more than doubled between 2013 and 2018, rising from 51,942 to 137,433.
Haitians and Cubans in Guyana
For Haitians and Cubans, the situation is slightly different due to the socioeconomic crises in their home countries. Although Haiti is a CARICOM Member State, Haitian nationals do not enjoy free movement within the CSME policy. In 2018, the Guyanese government removed visa restrictions for Haitians. This policy shift resulted in a significant increase in Haitian arrivals, from 770 in 2015 to 8,476 as of July 2019. In June 2021, the government reinstituted visa requirements for Haitians due to growing concerns of unchecked migration.
While Cuba is not a CARICOM Member State, a growing number of Cubans have traveled to Guyana since 2012, particularly with the removal of visa restrictions, increased flights to Guyana with connections to Latin America, and the U.S. Embassy in Guyana being designated the visa processing center for Cuban nationals after the U.S. government sharply scaled back its operations in Havana in 2017. Guyana in 2022 reinstated visa restrictions for Cuban nationals in response to ongoing entry requirements enforced by Cuba towards Guyanese nationals.
For many Cubans and Haitians arriving in Guyana, the country is a transit point to other destinations, including French Guiana and Brazil for Haitians, and Central and North America for Cubans.
As a result of the dynamic migration patterns of Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans, and others to Guyana, the country’s net migration rate is stabilising to levels unseen since the pre-independence period. While the net migration rate (number of immigrants minus number of emigrants) was -102,648 in 1987, it had fallen to -30,001 as of 2017. As Guyanese elect to stay in the country amid favorable economic projections and as members of the diaspora return, it is not unthinkable that a few years from now, Guyana could have a positive net migration rate for the first time in recent history, especially if immigrant flows from Venezuela and the Caribbean continue at the current pace. (Migration Policy Institute)