Guyana’s Labour Migration Study: Preparing for an economic boom like no other

7 July, 2020

Georgetown, Guyana. Imminently, Guyana, a developing nation on the north eastern coast of South America, will experience exponential growth in its economy as a result of its burgeoning oil and gas sector, following a significant discovery by ExxonMobil in 2015. This projection makes Guyana standout from its regional counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean, which face negative economic growth as a side-effect of national lockdowns imposed to contain the novel corona virus. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Guyana’s economy is expected to grow by 52.8% in the coming years. This is a stark contrast to the economic projections for neighbours like Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Brazil, and Venezuela, which are projected to have negative growths of -4.5%, -4.9%, -5.3%, and -15% respectively. This sudden and unique growth for Guyana makes it an attractive destination for foreign nationals and its diaspora seeking new opportunities in a region that is facing economic insecurity.


Despite this prospect, Guyana is still a developing nation with migration policies that need to be adapted to cope with its changing economic realities. To address Guyana’s challenges around migration, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), through the Regional Capacity Building Program on Migration in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, supported by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, is conducting a Labour Migration Study to understand the challenges and opportunities posed by the country’s current migration management system/policies and legislation and provide recommendations for improvement. The goal of this study is to ensure that Guyana has contextualized information needed to facilitate its national development, while strengthening its capacity in the area of migration management.


Migration management  can be understood as a framework that facilitates the practice of orderly, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people by implementing planned and well-managed migration policies, for the benefit of the country, its national economy and of migrants. A study like this is designed to gather and analyse information for the government to craft labour migration policies based on the country’s, and its economy’s, real needs. Once completed, this study would enable Guyana’s government to contextualize its local dynamics in job creation, while identifying skills gaps in its labour force. It is expected that, because of the country’s new resources, more labourers of all skill levels and members of the Guyanese diaspora will arrive to Guyana to take advantage of other emerging and complementary sectors. Therefore, data collected could then be used to manage labour inflows and recruitment. For a country with a population of less than 800,000 people and a poverty rate of 40 per cent, such information is an invaluable tool for understanding how to more efficiently manage its socio-economic development.   


The discovery of oil in Guyana paints the picture of a bright economic future for a country that has relied heavily on traditional economies such as agriculture and mineral mining and with one of the highest outmigration rates in the Caribbean. However, many in Guyana and abroad worry that, despite this new economic prospect, the country will face what is often known as the “resource curse”. For many Guyanese, the fear of this curse is very real as several examples of political, social and economic instability, as a result of fossil fuel discoveries, exist. For Guyana to avoid this, experts have said that it is critical for the country to implement proper management systems, with its new wealth, in areas of governance and procurement to ensure sustainable socio-economic development. 


Therefore, this Labour Migration Study is aiming to contribute to and gain from this body of proper management systems that ensure the protection and development of effective migration policies in Guyana. This is important given that Guyana is a Member State and houses the headquarters of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, which includes some free movement provisions for CARICOM nationals. Thus, the information gathered from this study can be used to streamline labour migration data collection and processing not just for the benefit of Guyana but for regional cooperation in the Caribbean.


Ultimately, the results of the study will go a long way in helping to understand and manage unprecedented migrations flows that the region has had in recent years. Moreover, this further strengthens IOM’s mandate of maximizing cooperation and promoting “orderly, regular, and safe migration as an enabler of sustainable development and inclusive growth in Latin America and the Caribbean”. It is assumed that when you have a country with rapid development, some new institutional changes will be implemented. In Guyana’s case, this development will have local and regional implications as many are hoping that this change will be for the better.