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Guatemala: Most People Wouldn't Choose to Migrate, New Study Says

Thank you to Catholic Relief Services for the publication of this article 


BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, June 2, 2021 – As people from Central America continue to migrate to the U.S. in record numbers, a new study commissioned by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) finds that most people in Guatemala would choose to stay in their communities if they were able to access basic services, such as education and health care. 

According to the study, entitled “Rootedness and the Decision to Migrate,” of 785 people surveyed, 77% had little or no intention to migrate out of Guatemala. Factors keeping people rooted to their homes include: access to basic health and educational services; access to stable and formal jobs, especially for young people; access to formal education and other types of training, especially when linked to profitable job opportunities; and the knowledge and skills to adapt to climate change.

“Unlike other migration studies, which have focused exclusively on the causes driving people to leave the region, we looked at the factors encouraging people to stay,” said Nicole Kast, CRS Guatemala’s head of programming. “By better understanding and investing in the factors that help people root and thrive in their communities, we can better address migration in a more effective and humane way.”

The study, conducted in May and June of 2020, surveyed people in Guatemalan communities where CRS implements programming.

“Just like in the U.S., people in Guatemala are deeply connected to their culture and to their country,” Kast said. “They want to stay. For them, as for most people, migration is a life-changing decision.”

In addition to examining rootedness factors of migration, the study also identified common characteristics of those most likely to migrate out of the region compared with the profiles of those who are undecided or most likely to stay in the region.

According to the research, those with the least intention to migrate are more likely to be housewives or employed with skilled labor; have access to employment in their community; have a strong perception of risks associated with the journey; participate in community development activities; and have a greater fear of contracting COVID-19.  

Key Findings:

  • Those aged 25-30 have the highest intention to migrate (28%).
  • Those with greater education levels are more likely to express the intention to migrate. Among those who expressed intention to migrate 29% had not finished elementary school as compared to 49% of those who did not express intention to migrate.
  • Although males are more likely to express intention to migrate overall (15% of men versus 9% of women), this significant gender disparity disappears among the population under 30 and especially for those with higher education, leading to a feminization of migration and a “female brain drain.”

“The conditions in Guatemala compelling families to leave are cumulative,” Kast said. “Whether families are dealing with violence, the impacts of climate change, or a lack of access to viable job opportunities—a family’s choice to go is often a painstaking decision that becomes a matter of life or death. Policymakers need to look closely at what keeps people rooted to their communities, so that more families can thrive where they are.”

Click here to read the study in English. Click here to read the report in Spanish. Click here to read CRS’ migration policy brief, which is based on the study.