Most emigrants who settle in Australia will not return

The Irish who move to Australia tend to stick together, but through Facebook and GAA rather than the pub

Antipodean idyll: the laid-back lifestyle and the beautiful beaches, such as on Fraser Island in  Queensland, attract Irish people to Australia. Photograph: Tourism Australia

Antipodean idyll: the laid-back lifestyle and the beautiful beaches, such as on Fraser Island in Queensland, attract Irish people to Australia. Photograph: Tourism Australia

Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 01:00

With some of the “best cities in the world”, beautiful beaches, sunny skies and a laidback lifestyle, it’s no wonder Australia attracts so many Irish, despite the distance from home.

There has been a slight fall this year in the number of Irish moving down under – a result of a slowdown in the Australian economy and the rising popularity of Canada – yet it remains the second-most-popular country, after the UK, for Irish people to emigrate to.

It’s a destination for all sorts of migrants, from graduate backpackers on the east coast to tradesmen with families searching for work in the mines. But there have been significant demographic changes among the Irish arriving over.

The average age of those leaving Ireland has risen. There are fewer people in their early 20s and more people in their 30s and 40s with young children. Even the under-30s on working-holiday visas are older than they used to be, according to Edwina Shanahan of the Irish migration agency VisaFirst.

“Parents don’t have the funds to pay for their children to travel like they used to,” she says. “Even college leavers going on working-holiday visas want a job in their field so they can gain experience . . . They don’t just want a backpacking job any more.”

In the past year Shanahan has noticed a significant increase in professionals such as teachers, accountants and civil servants quitting full-time jobs to go. “Lifestyle is creeping up now as a motivating factor. People are looking for a better way of life.”

Resource-rich Western Australia has overtaken New South Wales as the most popular destination for employer-sponsored workers from Ireland, followed by Victoria and Queensland.

Although most Irish people are still settling in the urban centres of Melbourne, Sydney and Perth – which all make it on to the ‘Economist’ magazine’s list of top 10 cities in the world to live in – the wider regions are becoming more popular, Shanahan says.

“The cost of living is much lower, salaries are still decent and employers are willing to offer opportunities for permanent residency. When the Irish move there they often really like it and end up staying.”

Of 1,500 online surveys carried out by University College Cork’s Emigre project this year, more than 400 were completed by Irish people who have settled in Australia over the past decade. The researchers found that the Irish in Australia tend to stick together, with 64 per cent of respondents living with at least one other Irish person, and 66 per cent socialising regularly with other Irish people. Two-thirds have friends or family already living in their destination.

There’s some truth behind the stereotype of the Paddy down under playing GAA on Bondi. The GAA has grown in popularity, with experienced players, some of whom have lined out for their counties at home, joining up alongside novices who are taking up the game as a social and networking opportunity.

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