Ciara Kenny

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

Walking the line between ‘there’ and ‘here’

‘Emigrants’ are more mobile than ever before, writes Trinity researcher Sally Daly

Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 07:40


Sally Daly

The Learning from Poland/Irish Abroad Study is a project which has examined and compared the strategies of Irish graduates in overseas labour markets with those of high-skilled Polish migrants entering the Irish labour market in the 2000s.

At the time of the most recent interviews with our Polish sample, some participants had followed partners overseas, a few had returned to Poland, while the majority remained in Ireland. As expected, the emergence of children was a clear point of distinction with the first interviews in 2007. Thier future intentions were becoming clearer, though many still had open plans.

Our 2013 snapshot of Irish graduates abroad didn’t offer us the same panorama through time. We found though that the quality of life and general happiness indictors were high, although importantly influenced by context and circumstance. One young arts graduate had retrained as a policeman in Western Australia and spoke about the personal development aspect of migration:

“I’ve been through a lot of changes since I came to Australia form being a college student to maturing and taking responsibility for certain actions and stuff so yeah I just made a complete change since coming here.” (Luke, police officer, Perth, 26)

For others with more established career tracks, the benefits seem to relate to lifestyle opportunities as well as targeted earning strategies.

Shadow of recession

In the context of economic cycles of boom and bust, the background story of recession did feature for our Polish participants, with some job losses incurred. Being in the unemployed category, however was not accepted as a permanent solution. Those who were still in employment experienced wage cuts and tax increases which impacted on their disposable incomes.

Amongst the Irish graduates, 10 had left a job to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Some linked this move to career progression or a desire for something new, a sort of “now or never” attitude. Importantly though, a number related this to a sense of labour market insecurity. One finance graduate, recently moved to Sydney said:

“I got a job for two years before I went and I was told, ‘look, this is two-year job but we would like to ideally make you permanent’. But you can’t rely on anything they tell you… Even if you get a permanent job, there’s no security within the economy.” (Damien, financial analyst, Sydney, 27)

Differing career strategies

In examining our Polish interviews, maintaining lifestyle seemed to be a critical goal. In that regard, people invented and reinvented themselves. This architect was considering retraining while also being open to casual work:

“I could work in a bar or in a shop… it would be a job in a shop for three days per week and the remaining three days … it would lead to something. And not on the basis that this is what I will be doing for the rest of my life.” (Natalia, architect, Dublin, 33)

When we looked at Irish graduate employment strategies, we saw by comparison a focus on working within the area of qualification. One graduate offered:

“Now that I’m in an area related to my qualification I’m not really willing to get out of it again. But definitely when you’re on the path to getting there I was definitely willing to work wherever I could, any type of temporary role until I got where I needed to be.” (Linda, construction/refit site manager, London, 29)

When we did encounter graduates working completely outside their area, it was largely a temporary measure, for example while navigating the Australian visa system. This was also a way to facilitate an easier lifestyle but on a temporary basis. For graduates without defined labour market skills, they either returned to postgraduate study options or had retrained entirely, as with our police officer earlier. There were a number for whom recruitment and administration offered employment, though the potential for getting “trapped” in such sectors was not lost on them.

Manoeuvring mobility

Some of the challenges for the Polish interviewees included building language competency or just working through a period of adjustment. One hotel and tourism graduate spoke about his settling in period:

“It took a month, two or three to understand slightly different accent. As you know, for everybody in the beginning the well-known English words suddenly started to sound strange and completely incomprehensible.” (Adam, hotel manager, Dublin, 37)

For others, competency in both English and Polish was a labour market advantage. Some Polish engineers found employers favoured their linguistic competencies, getting them to act as interpreters for those without language proficiency on site. This issue is an important one in the context of a broader interest in transnational mobility and labour market adaptability.

We also observed impediments to mobility. Some of these included lack of vertical mobility across sectors, an issue for both groups, particularly in the context of financial services. For the Irish cohort, mobility in the Australian labour market was informed by visa status. Even for high-skilled movers, being tied to an employer, as happens with the 457 employer sponsored visa, can be problematic. For one IT analyst, it meant staying in a stressful job to avoid the 28 day rule that follows loss of employment, whereby the employee is required to find a new sponsored position or risk expulsion.

Family history of migration

In the Irish sample, the evidence for strong histories of family migration was striking. Whilst “emigration” is the label that has tended to attach most determinedly to prior understandings of out-migration, we found that such patterns didn’t always correspond with graduates’ family stories. One finance graduate in speaking about the travel patterns of his aunts and uncles said:

“UK and New York and all over the place. They were just kind of roamers. They didn’t settle anywhere properly. They came back after five or six years and settled down.” (Jack, finance project manager, London, 26)

Suitcase at the ready

There was significant circular migratory patterns evident in both our Polish and Irish groups and many of our interviewees thought of travelling further, with a sense that potential opportunities elsewhere should not be overlooked by a fixation with what was available in the current environment. It also importantly relates to stage of life.

Dr Sally Daly is a postdoctoral researcher on the Learning from Poland/Irish Abroad Study, an Employment Research Centre project funded by the Irish Research Council at the Institute for International Integration Studies in Trinity College. A more detailed report of the Irish Abroad Survey will be available later this month. For more, see Graduate mobility: motivated by economics or wanderlust and ‘a surf at lunchtime’?