Opportunities in Ireland still not enough to draw emigrants back

Analysis: more needs to be done to encourage people not to leave this country

Dublin Airport: Just 11,600 Irish people arrived home from abroad last year, a fall of 26 per cent on the previous 12 months, and half the 2009 figure.

Dublin Airport: Just 11,600 Irish people arrived home from abroad last year, a fall of 26 per cent on the previous 12 months, and half the 2009 figure.


There are strong indications that the wave of mass emigration out of Ireland prompted by the downturn may be finally slowing, with the number of Irish people leaving the country last year falling 20 per cent compared to the previous 12 months.

After six years of consecutive increases – from just 13,100 in 2007 to 50,900 in 2012-13 – the news should come as a welcome relief.

But outward migration remains high, with the Central Statistics Office annual migration figures published yesterday showing 40,700 Irish people moved abroad in the 12 months to April. This brings the total number of Irish who have left the country since 2008 to 241,300.


In the same period however, 123,200 Irish living abroad have returned home to Ireland, despite the challenging economic circumstances here.

Holiday visas

Many of them are young emigrants whose short-term working holiday visas in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand have expired.

Others may be moving home to be closer to family, encouraged by reports of growth in the Irish economy, coupled with falling unemployment rates, which have hit a five-year low of 11.5 per cent, the CSO also announced yesterday.

Although opportunities may be improving for them in Ireland compared to a few years ago, the numbers deciding to move back are down quite considerably on the previous year, indicating that more and more are staying on and becoming permanent residents and citizens in such countries as Canada and Australia.

Just 11,600 Irish people arrived home from abroad last year, a fall of 26 per cent on the previous 12 months, and half the 2009 figure.

This would seem to support the view that the longer emigrants stay away from home, the stronger the connections they form with their adoptive countries and the less likely they are to move back.

The 15 to 24 age group has been the hardest hit by emigration, the figures show, with a net loss of 80,700 young people, both Irish and foreign nationals, in this age bracket over the past five years. The 25 to 44 age group has lost a net 64,200 people.

Low birth rate

When combined with the low birth rate in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this has led to a 31 per cent drop in the number of 20- to 24-year-olds living in Ireland since 2009, and a 23.9 per cent contraction in the group aged 25 to 29.

It is these figures that are the most stark of all, with implications for all aspects of Irish society, from the labour market and education to housing, local business, culture and sport.

The inclusion of a section on the educational attainment of migrants entering and leaving the country in the data for the first time is interesting, as it allows us to analyse whether or not Ireland is experiencing a “brain drain”.

While 35,300 people with third-level qualifications left the country last year, 30,900 immigrants – a group made up both of foreign nationals and returning Irish – moved here.

This amounts to a net loss of 4,400 graduates in 2013-14, a relatively small number considering total net emigration was 21,400. However, when added to figures since 2009, the net number of emigrants with third-level qualifications lost by Ireland amounts to 40,100, which is very significant.

Overall, the news that the rate of emigration is beginning to finally slow is welcome, but there is still a lot to be done to stem the tide, and offer good enough opportunities here for those who still see going or staying abroad as a better option than making a go of it at home.

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