The new Irish Gastarbeiter find their feet
Some 25 years after Joxer went to Stuttgart, his children are finding new opportunities in Europe’s largest economy
On Wednesday, Daryl Walshe had better news than 19 million other people around Europe. While official figures recorded the worst-ever jobless rate in the EU, the Coombe-born father of four was taken on full-time by his employer, Integrated Dynamics Engineering, near Frankfurt.
In 2011 Walshe was one of Ireland’s 420,000 jobless when, after four years looking for work, he departed Mayo with his family. “Life is too short to sit around and think something is going to jump out of the woodwork,” he says. “I knew nothing was going to happen anytime soon in Ballina.”
The engineer re-skilled at Sligo IT and, with a semiconductor qualification in his back pocket, boarded the short flight to Frankfurt. “I’m earning more than I could of dreamed of in Ballina and the move’s been far less difficult for my children than I’d worried it would be, they’re fluent in German now after a year,” he says.
Every Saturday near his home, Walshe sees long-distance coaches ejecting hundreds of people from southern European, anxious to escape the blight of up to 56 per cent youth jobless rates at home.
With the second-lowest unemployment rate in Europe of just 5 per cent, more than one million people moved to Germany last year – 80 per cent from neighbouring European countries. The greatest bloc was from Poland and Romania – 288,000 – followed by 127,000 from Europe’s crisis countries: Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus. Migration from Greece and Italy is up more than 10 per cent year-on-year and German streets are alive with the sounds of new arrivals. Though they get less attention in the media here, statistical and anecdotal evidence suggest a trend in Irish migration.
More than 2,800 Irish citizens moved to Germany last year, according to preliminary figures, nudging the Irish community towards 11,000. The actual figure is likely to be higher when you include many new arrivals who don’t get around to registering their residency.
“I’ve had so many conversations of late with Irish people that started, ‘How long have you been in Berlin?’ ‘Oh, I arrived yesterday’,” says Jody Gannon, who runs his own animation company here. The Irish Business Network, of which he is a member, is now being inundated with requests for information and assistance.
As well as an information campaign to welcome new arrivals, German authorities are now reminding their citizens that, as an ageing society with huge skills shortages, Germany needs the new arrivals.
Knut Diekmann, education expert at the German Chambers of Industry & Commerce (DIHK), says immigration remains a tricky emotional issue because of the difficulties integrating unskilled labourers – so-called Gastarbeiter – recruited from rural Italy, Greece and Turkey in the 1960s.
“Then, Germany needed hands but now we need heads, qualified people like architects and engineers to work in technical areas,” he says. “We’re confident that integrating well-educated people will be a whole different experience to the past.”
The good news for new arrivals is the simplification of forbidding German bureaucracy, in particular greater recognition of foreign qualifications. Terence Kelly from Leixlip studied for a time in Germany and returned, this time to Düsseldorf, with his wife and young daughter in January 2012. After working for Anglo Irish Bank and AIB, the the 37-year-old now works in the energy trading sector. The influx of Irish coincides with a push by many German companies to internationalise, he says, introducing English as the company working language. Native English speakers willing to pick up German for daily life are in demand. Kelly says he is typical of the latest wave of Irish emigrants to Germany from Ireland: the 30-plus bracket who have some work experience to bring to job interviews.
“Watching rugby matches in the Irish pubs here you don’t see the groups of young guys getting pissed in the corner that you might see in Sydney,” he says. “You see guys in their 30s or 40s who have either just arrived or been here 10-15 years.”
Germany’s reputation as a rules-driven place is not completely off the mark, he says, but that is less off-putting for the older generation moving here with families.
“When I was first in Germany as a student I used to get fun out of breaking the rules,” he says. “Now I have a daughter I like the fact that there are rules. It’s a better-run place as a result. So, if you’re looking for that in your life, it’s a good home.”
Long-term Irish residents in Germany sense more dynamism in Germany but warn against turning up on spec in Berlin, where wages are lower and the jobless rate higher than elsewhere.
“Many people seem to want to kill two birds with the one stone: find a new job and live in trendy Berlin,” says Jody Gannon. “But life can be tough here without work.”
Looking in on the Irish crisis from outside, many German Irish are optimistic it will help dismantle a wall they see in many Irish heads to the opportunities on offer in Germany, a 90-minute flight from home.
Limerick-born Michael Noble and his German wife Melanie Linger-Noble have just moved their family and business to Germany, near Cologne. They say there’s little risk in trying six months in Germany before committing to an emigrant life on the other side of the planet. “In the crisis I think people have forgotten that the whole point of the European Union is that you don’t really emigrate any more, just move across invisible borders to whatever European region happens to have opportunities at any one time,” says Linger-Noble.
“Germany needs more younger people and, if Ireland has produced one good thing in the past years, then it is young people. There are great opportunities are waiting for them in Germany and around Europe.”
To read more profiles of Irish emigrants in Germany, see today's post on the Generation Emigration blog at www.irishtimes.com/generationemgiration