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E.g., 10/04/2023
Report from MPI & Guatemalan NGO Examines Causes for Migration from Guatemala and Offers Policy Vision to Improve Livelihoods and Migration Management
Press Release
Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Report from MPI & Guatemalan NGO Examines Causes for Migration from Guatemala and Offers Policy Vision to Improve Livelihoods and Migration Management

WASHINGTON — Unauthorized migration from Guatemala to the United States has risen dramatically over the past decade, much of it coming from a region that is among the poorest and most rural: the Western Highlands. An estimated 1.3 million Guatemalans were U.S. residents in 2020, up 44 percent from 2013, with more than half of them living in the United States without legal status. The importance of migration as a lifeline was underscored during the COVID-19 crisis, with remittances to Guatemala increasing from a pre-pandemic $10.5 billion to $15.3 billion in 2021—far exceeding government revenue and almost certainly topping the value of all Guatemalan exports.

Yet not all municipalities in the Western Highlands’ Huehuetenango department have the same intensity of migration, and many of their migration patterns have focused mainly on other destinations within Guatemala and southern Mexico rather than the United States. And residents, in particular Indigenous ones, express a deep sense of rootedness (arraigo) in their local communities.

While migration has become an increasingly common pathway for Huehuetenangans out of poverty, food insecurity, violence, corruption, inadequate access to basic services and discrimination, it also exposes migrants to significant risks and separation from family. How can livelihoods be improved so that migration is not the default response? And how can alternatives to unauthorized migration be developed, in particular since the flow towards the United States is likely to continue for some time?

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute and the Guatemalan nongovernmental organization Asociación Pop No’j seeks to first explain the underlying causes and immediate triggers that drive people from their homes by examining the patterns and drivers of emigration, and then offer potential livelihood and migration management strategies. The report, supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), draws in part on more than 50 interviews conducted with local and national stakeholders, including community leaders, service providers, local and national government officials and leading scholars.

Chief among the findings is that policymakers in United States, Mexico and Canada should actively explore ways to expand temporary legal pathways that allow Guatemalans to work abroad for a time, addressing labor market needs at destination, while remaining rooted in their home communities. About 200,000 young Guatemalans enter the labor market each year, yet there are few new jobs for them to take. And Guatemala, which is the fifth poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean and the fifth most food insecure globally, has the world’s highest rate of land inequality.

“No combination of development interventions or immigration enforcement is likely to reduce unauthorized migration significantly in the short term, so providing legal migration options would help ensure that more of this movement happens in a safe, orderly and regular manner,” write authors Andrew Selee, Luis Argueta and Juan José Hurtado Paz y Paz. “This may be the single most important issue to address in the short term when it comes to managing irregular migration from Guatemala.”

Seeking to build on residents’ strong sense of belonging and preference not to emigrate if conditions can be improved, the report also recommends developing local communities’ social and economic infrastructure, including access to education and health care, as well as investing in local actors as agents of change and tailoring interventions to the local context.

“There is no single strategy that will slow unauthorized migration or even provide a credible alternative for most families in the Guatemalan Highlands,” the authors conclude. “However, there are approaches that, over time, can create meaningful opportunities for people who choose not to migrate and better conditions for human development that allow people to make a good life where they live.”

You can read the report, Migration from Huehuetenango in Guatemala’s Western Highlands: Policy and Development Responses, here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/migration-huehuetenango-guatemala.

And in Spanish here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/migracion-huehuetenango-guatemala.

This work is the latest from MPI’s Building a Regional Migration System project. It presents a new approach to managing regional migration that is centered around four specific pillars: effective humanitarian protection systems, targeted legal pathways, professionalized migration management and informed investments in development and governance in countries of origin, transit and reception.

For more on Asociación Pop No’j, visit: www.asociacionpopnoj.org/.