...Tomiwa Oladipo Published August 2022
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that Guyana, the world’s fastest economy, will need 160,000+ workers to sustain its economic boom.
While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world's economy, Guyana stayed on course as the world's fastest-growing economy for the third year in a row. Its economy boomed with real GDP growth of 43.5% in 2020.
Guyana’s rapid growth and transformation from one of the world’s poorest countries began in 2015 when ExxonMobil discovered large offshore oil deposits in the country’s Stabroek block.
The discovery has turned out to be a game changer for the tiny South American country, facilitating growth in other sectors, such as manufacturing, services, and tourism.
Experts estimate the trend will continue with over 47% real GDP growth in 2022, making Guyana the world’s fastest-growing economy.
However, Guyana needs at least 160,000 workers to harness its oil resources and sustain its economic growth.
Guyana's labor shortage is a significant challenge that may thwart the nation's economic growth potential. This is not a surprise for a tiny country with 800,000 people and over 55% of its population living in diaspora.
But it’s shocking to discover that over 80% of Guyanese nationals with tertiary education and 40% of those with secondary education live and work abroad.
This leaves Guyana in a difficult brain drain situation devoid of skilled professionals to harness its oil and gas exploits.
According to the MPI, if Guyana were to harness all underemployed, unemployed, and discouraged Guyanese workers, domestic supply would only amount to 63,500 workers.
As a result, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that Guyana will need to attract at least 100,000 workers to realize its full growth potential. This is particularly the case since Guyana lost most of its skilled workforce.
Ever since Guyana gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, thousands of people have left the country, with little or no replacement. Immigration to the country dropped from about 13,500 in 1965 to 4100 in 1990.
Likewise, restrictive border policies during the decolonization period and sustained economic hardship in the 1980s and early 1990s increased emigration, especially to the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.
The Migration Policy Institute explained that Guyana’s current labor shortage was due to a decades-long continuous exodus of skilled talent to developed countries, draining the South American nation of vital human resources.
MPI states, “Guyana lacks a comprehensive migration policy to address evolving migration trends and meet the country’s needs.”
To address this, IOM and other international actors recommend establishing 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 the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) neighbors.
Guyana has three options to meet its labor needs: the Guyanese diaspora, CARICOM nationals, and Venezuelan migrants.
Guyana has been experiencing increasing Venezuela arrivals since 2018. This resulted from the ongoing deterioration of political, social, humanitarian, and economic conditions in Venezuela, where over 6 million people have left the country since 2014.
According to the Regional Refugee and Migration Response Plan (RMRP), approximately 24,500 Venezuelan migrants were resident in Guyana as of May 2022, totaling 3% of Guyana’s overall population.
The Guyanese government also responded to the influx of Venezuelans by setting up an interagency body called the Multi-Agency Coordinating Committee for Addressing the Influx of Venezuelan Migrants into Guyana.
Though Guyana centered much attention on Venezuelan immigrants, most arrivals to Guyana come from the Caribbean, mainly from Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Barbados, Suriname, and Haiti.
Interestingly, nationals of most CARICOM Member States (except for Haiti) are entitled to free movement, with an automatic six-month stay on arrival.
These CARICOM nationals can obtain an indefinite stay in a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) state once identified as being within a defined skills category, such as media members, university graduates, athletes, registered nurses, musicians, trained teachers, and the self-employed.
Considering the size of the highly skilled Guyanese diaspora, MPI suggests the Guyanese government could encourage the return of diaspora members by developing robust return incentives.
Also, Guyana has instituted a Remigrant Scheme, providing tax exemptions for importing vehicles and personal items by returning Guyanese nationals.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also recommends developing a "Guyana Global" online platform to harness human diaspora capital, facilitate the exchange of expertise and identify opportunities within public, private, and civil-society sectors. It will also help attract more human, social, and financial capital.
One thing is clear, Guyana will need the help of international workers, especially those in the oil and gas sector, to sustain its oil-driven economic growth.
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