Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

To thrive, Ireland must foster immigration

When his American girlfriend’s Irish visa was about to run out in 2009, Bill Lehane quit a stable job in RTE and moved to China. After spending time in the US and in Prague, they are now married and living in London, and although they can now legally return to Ireland to live, they can’t see themselves coming back any time soon.

Wed, Nov 16, 2011, 14:43

   

Bill Lehane and his wife Megan outside Trinity College

When his American girlfriend’s Irish visa was about to run out in 2009, Bill Lehane quit a stable job in RTE and moved to China. After spending time in the US and in Prague, they are now married and living in London, and although they can now legally return to Ireland to live, they can’t see themselves coming back any time soon.

For non-EEA nationals, Ireland’s graduate visa programme is not a flexible instrument. If you haven’t found a job within six months of graduating from third level studies – completed at a considerable premium over your Irish classmates – you are effectively forced out of the country.

This was how I first came to leave Ireland in March 2009, when the recession was already underway but had yet to be truly felt by most people. I quit a permanent job in RTÉ after six years and headed off with my then girlfriend, now wife Megan Eaves, an American travel writer, to teach English in China.

After six exotic months in the remote subtropical climes of Lishui City, we moved to my wife’s home state of New Mexico where we spent a sunny year freelance blogging and got married.

There, in contrast to Ireland, the immigration system is quite pleasant – the financial cost and mound of paperwork involved notwithstanding – and I secured a permanent green card in little more than six months.

Less pleasant, however, were the prospects of the dwindling American news media market, and after a brief dalliance with a move to New York, we found ourselves instead relocating to Prague.

I spent an enjoyable year in the Czech capital working as a news reporter and the first web editor of The Prague Post. As an aside, credit must go to the industrious networking of the Irish Embassy there, which has developed quite a reputation for the country in political and business circles.

During the summer, myself and my wife moved once more, this time to London, where I took an online news reporting job at an energy newspaper in the Fleet Street area.

Bill and Megan in Prague

We are both greatly enjoying the cosmopolitan, multicultural life of the big city across the pond, and have no plans to leave in the short to medium term.

However, a parallel reality of our position is that, though now married and therefore fully entitled to stay in Ireland, the contracting nature of the jobs market means we are unlikely to even be in a position of considering a return any time soon.

Ironically, in the interim my wife has established an online travel magazine dedicated to Ireland, IrishJaunt.com, which has seen early success with both Irish and international readers.

My journalism career continues to develop at the same time, but at no benefit to Ireland, which having paid for much of my education now has few opportunities to offer me.

The real catalyst for my departure, though, was Ireland’s continuing lack of willingness to fully embrace the fruits of immigration. Until Ireland realizes the value of a sophisticated immigration system to its modern, open economy, the current so-called ‘brain drain’ of talented young professionals seems set to continue.

Bill Lehane is Online News Reporter – London for Upstream, the international oil and gas newspaper. His popular travel blog is available at billlehane.com.

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