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Using a historical approach, this paper examines the evolution of Guyanese migration from the 1950s until the 2010s. It explores the role of the Guyanese state in migration, the effect of independence and the establishment of a border regime on migration, with a particular focus on how political decisions and socio-economic policies have affected the timing, volume, composition and direction of migration in the post-independence period. After elaborating a new conceptual framework, the paper analyses the role of the Guyanese state across three broad historical phases: from the early 1950s to independence in 1966; from independence to the gradual political and economic opening of Guyana in 1985; and from 1986 to the present. The paper finds that the uncertainties generated by Britain’s introduction of its Immigration Act in 1962 and Guyana’s independence in 1966 led to two initial increases in emigration in the 1961-1962 and in 1965-66 periods. The Guyanese state’s support of 'cooperative socialism' and its authoritarian stance until the mid-1980s then promoted large emigration, which gradually included all classes and ethnic groups. At the same time, British and North American migration policies cause the partial redirection of migration towards the US and Canada. The importance of family re-unification and skilled migration channels explain on one hand, how entire Guyanese families have emigrated, while on the other hand, how Guyana is one of the top ten countries for skilled migrants. This paper shows the importance of shifting beyond the ‘receiving country’ bias by considering the important role of origin country states in migration processes.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



migration, policy, colonialism, post-colonialism, Guyana, independence, state