NEW YORK – The majority of Guatemalans would rather stay in their home country than migrate, but the difficult conditions of the country and a lack of opportunities compel them to leave, according to a new study.

“Between Rootedness and the Decision to Migrate: Push and Retention Factors of Migration in Guatemala” was released this week by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and accessed the factors that make Guatemalans want to stay in their home country, and important main factors of retention and rootedness that the country needs to improve.

It comes just before Vice President Kamala Harris heads to Guatemala and other Central American countries to discuss  migration, specifically the root causes that cause people to leave.

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

“Whether families are dealing with violence, 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.”

The study utilizes two surveys conducted May and June 2020. One was a household survey of 785 people that represented 73 rural communities CRS partners with including Chiquimula, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Quiché, San Marcos and Totonicapán. The other survey utilized the responses of 89 urban people between 18 and 30-years-old that mostly live in Sacatepéquez.

It also utilizes 84 semi-structured interviews with people that have relevant experiences and live in the communities mentioned above. As well as another set of semi-structured interviews with 12 survey respondents from organizations that work on migration issues in Guatemala.

Overall, 77 percent of the 785 respondents to the first survey had little to no intention to migrate.

The majority of respondents – 471 of 785 – also said they would rather stay in Guatemala than migrate. The majority of these people were housewives and skilled workers with strong roots to where they live, and understand the risks of migratory destinations.

Whereas the 145 respondents that expressed a desire to migrate out of Guatemala were mostly younger – between 25-30 – with a higher level of education and fewer roots to the country, therefore were optimistic about their chances of succeeding elsewhere.

The remaining 169 respondents were undecided.

Access to jobs and job stability – especially for young people – and ownership and access to productive land are factors the study identifies that would motivate people to stay in their home country. However, Guatemala struggles in both areas.

The research found that there’s a lack of job opportunities compared to the level of training and studies Guatemalan youth go through, which leads students and the unemployed to consider migration as one of the few ways to find work, further develop and utilize their skills.

As far as productive land ownership, Guatemala is among the 10 countries in the world most threatened by climate change. The research cites evidence that migratory flows from Guatemala to the U.S. increasingly come from rural areas. Particularly, in the dry corridor, which is a region on the Central American Pacific coast that experiences severe droughts and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change.

Loss of crops and livelihoods, along with worsening food conditions in areas affected by climate change and extreme weather will likely be the key drivers of migration in the future, according to the study.

To combat the rise in migration the U.S. has experienced through the first half of 2021 the study suggests that rather than focusing on deterring migration, Congress and the Biden administration should appropriate and allocate resources to build prosperous and safe communities where people can achieve a dignified life for themselves and their families.

“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,” Kast said. “Policymakers need to look closely at what keeps people rooted in their communities, so that more families can thrive where they are.”

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