Emigration nation: Why the Irish are migrating once again

DUBLIN Leaving Ireland for better prospects abroad has become a fact of life for many in Ireland since the crisis.  At the same time, a new survey suggests that while going abroad for work opportunities is a necessity for some, for others it’s a wish for adventure that drives the wanderlust.

By Rasmus Bagge Jensen

Its expected, that 60.000 people has left Ireland the last 12 months. Photo: Rasmus Bagge Jensen

“My choice was working here or not working at all”, says Eoin Morgan.

Originally from Cork, he now calls Melbourne Australia home. He’s 32 and works as a software developer, a skill he could put to good use down under. And life is good there for this Irish emigrant, who doesn’t regret his decision to relocate half a world away from home.

“The employment positivity is amazing here. It feels great when both you and the people around you have jobs. It’s not like back home”, says Eoin Morgan.

This Irish expat is one out of many. Since the crisis hit Ireland in 2008, emigration has once again returned to the Emerald Isle, and the Irish are leaving for better futures abroad. According to the Central Statistics Office Ireland, emigration among Irish nationals continued to increase sharply from 27,700 to 40,200 over the 12 months to April 2011. And in 2012 this trend is increasing according to Joe Durkan, who is on the Quarterly Economic Commentary editorial team at the Economic and Social Research Institute, based at Trinity College, Dublin.

“We are expecting that by April this year, the net emigration will have risen to 60.000 people”, says Joe Durkan.

Though he explains that the official statistics from the public census are subject to much debate at the moment.

“They just discovered a 100.000 more people in Ireland than there was supposed to be, so right now we are waiting for numbers in the new census, he says.

From tiger to crisis

Ireland fortunes appeared to change for the better in the mid-1990s, when years of big spending on higher education, low corporate taxes, European Union aid and foreign investment helped transform Ireland into the “Celtic Tiger.” Between 1995 and 2000, the economy showed nearly double digit growth every year on average, and Ireland began to catch up with its richer European neighbors. This changed however by 2008, as Ireland’s banking crisis triggered a deep recession and unemployment soared.

According to Joe Durkan from the ESRI, the methods used in their prediction of future emigration levels are modeled, among other factors, after the state of the labor market.

“And if things continue to be this depressed, with an unemployment rate at 14.2 percent, then we can expect more migration”, says Joe Durkan.

According to him, one factor that influences emigration is the health of domestic spending, one of the key factors in creating jobs.

“If the emigration numbers were lower, it would show in the unemployment figures”, he says.

Acording to a Sarah Meade, a press officer from the Fine Gael party, the major coalition partner in the government:

“Job creation is central to every decision taken by the Government”.

According to the spokeswoman, the unemployment and emigration still remain in unacceptably high levels, but the employment situation has stabilized, and the overall unemployment rate has come down slightly from its peak of 14.4 percent.

“Government will continue to do everything they can to get Ireland back to work. Since coming to office just over a year ago we have implemented a number of measures, aimed at addressing our unemployment crisis”, she says.

Staying or going

Outside the offices of the ESRI at Trinity College, the sun is shining down on the throng of tourists, that part through the college grounds on a daily basis. Basking in the rare Irish rays are four students at the college, and they are split whether or not to leave the nation.
“I’m definitely staying”, says Dylan Gray, a student musician at Trinity College.
“Music is all about knowing people, who you can either play with or get a gig from. So it’s much easier for me to stay here, than to start up somewhere new,” he says.

The girl next to him feels she is in the same situation, Carla Rogers studies Irish studies and film science at the college.
“With the subjects I have chosen, I can’t really see how I can use my studies abroad. So I couldn’t move away even if wanted to, says Carla Rogers.

Aoife Erraught, a political science and business student sees it differently.

"I want to experience living in a whole other culture, and you can’t do that here back home. says studentAiofe Erraught. Photo: Rasmus Bagge Jensen

“I think I have to leave. I want to experience living in a whole other culture, and you can’t do that here, back home” she says.

But while her wanderlust is healthy, she says that she would eventually like to come back from her stay abroad, so that she can give back to the Irish society.

“I feel I have a responsibility, I got a free education here, so I want to pay it back somehow”, says Aoife Erraught.

Also Eimear Maguire, a computer science and linguistics student at the university wants to leave and see the wider world.

“I would like to develop my language skills, and perhaps become a little bit more bilingual”, says Eimear Maguire.

For some students at the university, going abroad for work is not just speculation. Moss Hamilton, a physics student who graduates this summer, has already a job lined up for him in the United Kingdom.

“I don’t really know the world, so I would like to explore it. And it might have been possible for me to find a job in Ireland with a physics degree, but I doubt I could get a research job, which I wanted”, explains Moss Hamilton.

Forced or free choice

According to a survey conducted by the Irish Times 42 percent said when asked, that they left Ireland to get a change or an experience. 40 percent cited because of work and 17 percent explained their emigration was because of personal reasons.

Overall 59 percent felt they emigrated because of personal choice divided by sex, 67 percent of women feel they left because of choice.

According to Joe Durkan, the emigrants of today differ from the previous migration waves.

“If you look at the last great emigration in the 1980s it was specifically low skilled people who migrated. Today we see another situation where it’s now highly skilled young people in the mid 20s to early 40s that are leaving the country”, he explains.

One place where the old habits of emigration have not changed is the destination of the emigrants.

In the survey done by The Irish Times, especially three destinations were chosen by the emigrants. 33 per cent migrated to the United Kingdom and Australia and New Zealand welcomed 39 per cent of the Irish migrants. According to the Central Statistics Office Ireland, emigration to the UK and the ‘Rest of the World’ showed large increases in 2011 while there was a fall in emigration to the EU 12 countries.

“As for their chosen destination, a lot of people will go to English speaking countries, even if the job situation is not ideal there either. England also struggles with unemployment issues, but it is possible to get a job in the city of London with the right skills”, says Joe Durkan.

The weather doesn’t hurt

For Eoin Morgan, it was the lack of language barrier that drew him to Australia.

“Of cause the weather doesn’t hurt either”, he says.

He has now spent two years down under, and it’s starting to dawn for him, that he might not move back to Ireland again.

“When I planned to go here, and for the first weeks I lived here, I thought it was a temporary thing. That was what I had told my parents and my friends, but as you start to settle in, you find out you can easily make a life here, even if it’s so far from home.”

 Click here to watch a slideshow, and see the students different perspectives on emigrating:


About Rasmus Bagge Jensen