CONSUMERS all over the world are always concerned with emigration trends and in small countries like those in the Caribbean, the concern is more acute. At the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) stakeholder consultation which was recently held in Guyana, Dr. Justin Ram, the Director of the Caribbean Development Bank’s Economic Department revealed some rather surprising figures and projections.
Dr. Ram pointed out that the Caribbean Region had an emigration rate which was four times that of Latin America and Guyana’s rate was one of the two highest. In 2013, 9.65 people per thousand emigrated and from a previous study, it was stated that 40 per cent of the population would emigrate if they had the opportunity. From 1992, on the average, 10,000 per year emigrated with the CSME Treaty contributing to the steady outflow of people from Guyana. But by far the overwhelming majority of Guyanese emigrants, however, made their way to the USA and Canada.
Dr. Ram also pointed out that the Caribbean lost seven per cent of its highly trained population that is people who had had 12 years or more schooling. In Guyana, for instance, 80 per cent of the graduates of the University of Guyana emigrate. This emigration of the highly-skilled leads to the so-called “brain drain”, and a lack of skilled personnel to fill jobs thus slowing down development. It also leads to the loss of large amounts of money which had been expended on the education of skilled emigrants.
The question of whether this massive emigration is a good or bad thing for Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean countries is a moot point. It is only by analysing the push and pull factors which stimulate emigration that some conclusion could be made and in any case, there is always an element of subjectivity in conclusions.
In studying push and pull factors, say over a period of 20 or 30 years, it must be realised that some of the factors become of less importance or even of no importance with the effluxion of time. In the following analysis, we will state the various push-pull factors without qualifying them as to their levels of importance.
Guyanese people settle abroad for a number of reasons. For years they have been conditioned to believe that life in the cities of the West, that is North America and Europe, were much superior to Guyana. This belief was further reinforced by the widespread availability of television and was a strong overall push for people to try to emigrate.
Another factor, and probably the most important, is the widespread unemployment among young people in Guyana and the Caribbean. Young qualified people cannot find jobs after of job-hunting for years, leaving them no alternative but to emigrate. And although the jobs they may find in the cities of the developed countries may be stressful, low-paid and below their educational skills and levels, they find it better than being unemployed.
Once emigrants settle into better jobs and earn more money, they send remittances in money or kind to help to keep their families at home in a decent standard of living. Such remittances from emigrants make up a noticeable percentage of the foreign exchange earnings of Guyana and other Caribbean countries.
Also when emigrants become more established, they are able to sponsor their relatives who may desire to emigrate, thus having families rejoining each other.
With the large numbers of Guyanese and West Indian emigrants in the capital cities of several developed countries, they have been able to establish a cultural presence as other nationalities had long done. In New York, for example, there are impressive Phagwah parades and celebrations and tens of Guyanese temples and mosques and parades to celebrate Guyana’s Independence. There are a few Guyanese steel-band groups. There are also Guyanese and West Indian restaurants and bakeries.
One of the most important push factors over the years has been political disgruntlement. This factor has been more important in Guyana and Suriname to a lesser degree than in other Caribbean countries.
Once the emigration of skilled persons has started, it keeps growing in a crescendo with growing negative economic effect.
In addition to the economic loss caused to society by the emigration of skilled personnel, there is an even greater socio-cultural loss. The emigration of such large numbers of the Guyanese population has fractured the cultural fabric of the society. For example, many hallowed Guyanese cultural norms and customs are disappearing as in the case of Christmas and Easter celebrations which have lost their vibrancy.
The overwhelming majority of Guyanese who emigrate to the big cities like New York have to live in working-class areas since they do not have money enough to live in the middle class or better areas. In the big cities of the developed world, the environment creates the man. Accordingly, residents of such poorer areas begin to reflect the mores of those areas and their children become completely like working-class American children.
For example, they would have no ambition to be professionals and would often fall into the company with youth who become flaneurs or even in criminal gangs. Parental control almost completely disappears.
In Guyana, society is egalitarian and anyone could aspire to be a professional or have the highest positions in society. Indeed, most of the politicians and professionals and leaders of the society have working-class backgrounds. Living in the developed cities inhibits upward social mobility. The average Guyanese emigrant has to be conscious of the pitfalls and avoid them.