By Marlon Bristol

Migrants are not considered generally to be a random group, and return or circulation to small jurisdictions such as Guyana remains a merit that policy should seek to realize.

Let’s take Return Migrants (RMs) for example, or those with an intention to return. It is sometimes argued, that this group of migrants, or in this stage of the migration cycle, RMs are known to be human agents of change. Murat Kotan, in 2010, advised that ‘the power to act and influence the state of the world and the ability to act purposefully on the basis of one’s own objectives are necessary elements of the concept of human agency’. In fact, human agents are active and not passive; their actions are embedded in a natural order per se, and it is often intentional and purposive.

Bovenkerk, in 1982, had indicated that RMs to Suriname did not turn out to be agents of change. But, Dennis Conway et al. in 2005, alluded to a new trend of younger RMs to the Caribbean as ‘human agents’ and their impetus to the region’s development success. These were migrants returning in small numbers before retirement and living transnational lives. Consequently, they are able to impact development in part because, as Aga Szewczyk in 2015 noted, younger generations not only embrace transnational lives but concomitant livelihood strategies as well. In fact, younger generations are more attuned to the risks and uncertainties associated with them migrating. Adapting to change, it is believed, becomes a normalized behaviour for this group. Additionally, this group treats structural constraints differently. Such evidence is a marked departure from what has mostly been the long-standing tradition that the volume of returnees have to be ‘sufficiently large’ to be impactful.

As Sabina Alkire puts it, in human development, human agency reflects a person’s ability to act on what he or she values or have reason to value. Amartya Sen, earlier in 1985, raised the issue of ‘a person’s agency freedom’ which ‘refers to what the person is free to do and achieve in pursuit of whatever goals or values he or she regards as important’. If we were to reflect in local parlance what this notion of human agency is, it would reverberate things we are all too familiar with. For those of us who were never migrants, we are familiar with getting advice on how to do things better, and what is cutting-edge or out-dated, an all too familiar ‘lecture’ from that person who has lived or vacationed abroad and has returned. That recurring theme that Guyana can do better, if only, coming from that once local mind, has now gone global. That epiphany of awareness cornered by unknown but new experiences enlighten how family and country might do better. That former localized and seemingly limited existence, informed by travel, now comes with what can sometimes be perceived as ‘condescending and boastful delusions’ of what potentially can be. Scaled up and formalized governments sometimes see development potential of an enlightened diaspora as a rich source of resources.

However, Ronald Skeldon has offered some caution on using migration, or, as Lisa Akesson noted, return migration to spur development. This might be especially true for instance where the structural constraints are pronounced.

Such constraints might be referred to as those issues that do not enable connecting with the diaspora; facilitating return and targeting resources; integration; receipt and diffusion of resources and potential of what the diaspora has to offer in the local origin destination. For example, when Guyana had foreign exchange controls, the receipt of remittances actually fuelled an underground and black market economy for foreign currency and items it could purchase. This parallel market was counter productive to what the national development agenda was geared to achieved, but came in handy for households.

The liberalization of various aspects of financial markets locally and foreign exchange controls facilitated remittances, which now accounts for more foreign exchange than official development assistance, foreign direct investment, inter alia.

Addressing structural rigidities is a natural treatment of encouraging return, acknowledging some structural constraints will take longer to adjust than others. Policy alignment or adjustment could be one area in which we try to address structural impediments. And, targeting can focus policy to deliver exactly what it is we ask of the diaspora to deliver.

This article continues next week.

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Marlon Bristol is a PhD Student researching the development impact of return migration to Guyana using parametric and non-parametric techniques. He is currently a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with the Ministry of the Presidency. He is published and his is strengths include research methods, development economics, policy advice, project management and monitoring and evaluation.

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