Big ‘life decisions’ bringing emigrants home, not jobs

Opinion: Economy is improving but Irish abroad are still concerned about prospects

The number of Irish people moving back to Ireland from abroad jumped 74 per cent in the year to April 2016, CSO figures show. Photograph: iStock

The number of Irish people moving back to Ireland from abroad jumped 74 per cent in the year to April 2016, CSO figures show. Photograph: iStock

 

The Central Statistics Office brought resounding good news for the Government on Tuesday, with the announcement that the number of people at work in Ireland has surpassed two million for the first time since 2008, and that the numbers moving to Ireland once again outweigh the numbers emigrating.

Commenting on the migration figures, Fine Gael Senator Neale Richmond said they were “proof that the recession is well and truly over, and that Ireland is once again an attractive place to work”.

More than 300,000 Irish people left the country in the last nine years, and while some would have departed regardless of the economic circumstances here, the drastic rise after the crash in 2008 provides unequivocal proof that the majority were “recession emigrants”.

Unemployment rates have been dropping steadily since they peaked at around 15 per cent in 2012 (to 8.3 per cent in July, according to the CSO), but the numbers of Irish returning to live here remained low. In fact, in the 12 months to April 2014, the CSO recorded the lowest number of returning emigrants since their records began in 1996.

But the tide has certainly begun to turn, as Tuesday’s figures show, with a 78 per cent jump in the number of Irish people returning to live here in the 12 months to April 2016.

There is also clear evidence that the so-called “brain-drain” has come to an end too, as the number of people (of all nationalities) moving here with a third-level qualification in the period outweighed those leaving by 6,200. This compares to a net outflow of 13,400 graduates back in 2011.

While it is welcome news that 21,100 Irish people thought well enough of their prospects in Ireland to move back here last year, it puts only a small dent in the hundreds of thousands of emigrants who remain abroad, however.

Senator Neale said Ireland was now an attractive place “for those seeking both high quality jobs and a great standard of living”, but a survey by Ipsos MRBI for The Irish Times in July found the majority of post-2008 emigrants were happier abroad than they were in Ireland, with better wages, better career opportunities, and better lifestyles.

Another survey published on Tuesday by Crosscare Migrant Project, the social care agency of the Dublin Archdiocese, found that despite an improving economy, employment remains the biggest concern among emigrants looking to move back to Ireland, along with the cost of living.

High rents, the price of car and health insurance, high taxes and precarious working conditions - including zero-hour contracts and unpaid internships - were all cited as factors deterring emigrants from moving back to live here.

These issues not only affect returning emigrants; they affect those still living here, too. This is highlighted by the high numbers still emigrating: 31,800 Irish nationals moved abroad in the year to April. The numbers leaving have increased among 15 to 24-year-olds, the cohort most affected by insecure employment.

Economic improvements in Ireland are certainly a draw for emigrants looking towards “home”, but “life-stage” factors are often more important motivators for returning Irish.

Many of those who were in their early to mid-20s when they left after the crash are now approaching an age when decisions about where to buy a home or raise a family are commonly made. Homesickness and a desire to “settle down” closer to family and good friends are reasons cited more often by contributors to the Generation Emigration section on irishtimes.com for wanting to return to live here than the desire to work in Ireland.

It is these life-stage factors which are really bringing emigrants home, not falling unemployment. Improved economics makes the move easier, certainly, but if the Government really wants more of them to come back, it needs to think about more than just job figures. It is about making Ireland a better place for everyone to live in.

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