Ciara Kenny

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

Numbers leaving Ireland for adventure ‘on the rise again’

Canada is luring workers and travellers away from Australia, migration expert says

'While Canada’s popularity is undoubtedly on the up, there will always be a special place in Irish hearts for the land Down Under.'

Tue, Jun 24, 2014, 11:30


Edwina Shanahan,

When VisaFirst took our information roadshow nationwide at the beginning of this year, we noticed a pretty obvious shift in the tone and mood of the events. We’ve been running these roadshows twice annually for the last five years, and not only has the profile of attendees been changing, but also the the general outlook and attitude. It has been refreshing to see an air of positivity in the room at our 2014 events so far.

Necessity versus desire

I would be careful though not to overstate this positive outlook – there are still a lot of people leaving this country because they feel they have to in order to work and to provide for their families , or to gain much sought-after work experience or their first skilled job after finishing a college course.

Unfortunately, we are still seeing fathers who may have certain trade skills leaving their families to work in countries like Australia or Canada and New Zealand – where the financial prospects are just too good to turn down. Similarly, many of these dads are finding that the quality of life is so good in these countries, that the family often subsequently decides to relocate – if only for a few years. Certain employers will assist with initial accommodation and help new migrants and their families to settle in, as it is in the employer’s interest to do this.

New Zealand in particular is crying out for workers, and is now focusing on more experienced applicants aged 30-plus. Many employers look for candidates with families, as these people are often considered more dependable and more reliable. New Zealand has over AUS$6 billion in ongoing construction projects at the moment, with much of the focus on rebuilding Christchurch after the recent earthquake. This surge in demand for workers is predicted for at least the next 10 years so it is a very viable move for skilled trades and professionals with dependants.

Irish people have always had a real thirst for travel and adventure and we are seeing a resurgence in this as a motivation to go away at our events. Two years ago 60 per cent of attendees would have been considering emigration out of necessity, but from what we have seen this year we believe this figure would have dropped to about 40 per cent.

Canada versus Australia

We are also seeing a big change in the desired destination of those looking to travel and work. Where once Australia was the go-to location, Canada and the US are now attracting greater attention. The majority (55.4 per cent) of respondents to a survey we carried out recently chose Canada or the US as their first preference. Emigrants are reaching out to contacts and expats in countries other than Australia now, and sandy beaches are no longer the only draw.

In 2014 Ireland was granted 10,700 places for the IEC working programme – up from 6,250 in 2013. This is clear evidence that Canadian employers like and appreciate the calibre of worker from Ireland. Irish candidates also have the added advantage of being able to apply up to age 36.

The numbers looking to apply for Canadian working visas was nearly equal to those for Australia in 2013, which has never happened before. There are two primary drivers behind this jump – firstly Canadian employer’s visits to Ireland throughout 2012 and 2013 have really driven home to people the amount of work opportunities that are currently on offer in Canada, and secondly there is a growing number of Irish people who are willing to travel for work but feel that Australia is that bit too far, and so are choosing Canada instead.

We are contacted on a daily basis by Canadian employers looking for Irish workers, with general labourers, truck drivers, truck mechanics, mechanical and construction trades in high demand.

One of the key reasons why Canada continues to be a powerful draw for the Irish is the fact that many know people already out there. The language and culture is similar to Ireland. It is also nearer home for those who might want to commute every few months, have spouse and children still in Ireland, or elderly parents here and do not want to be over a day’s flight away. But most importantly, Canada has jobs.

While Canada’s popularity is undoubtedly on the up, there will always be a special place in Irish hearts for the land Down Under. The most popular route of travel and work for Irish people going to Australia is the 457 employer-sponsored working visa.  During the 2012 – 2013 period Ireland was the third largest source country for 457 visas, with the Irish making up 9.6 per cent of the overall number granted.

Figures have revealed also that in 2013 there were 6,570 Irish primary grants (9.6 per cent of all applications) and 3,720 secondary grants for dependants (6.4 per cent of all applications for secondary applicants), showing that many Irish families are upping sticks for a new life in Australia.

While most people are aware of the ever-popular one year working holiday visa for the under-30s, many are not aware that they may be eligible to apply for a different working visa for Australia. We would urge those consider working abroad to assess their eligibility to travel for work. All too often we have encountered people who think that because they are over the age of 30 or because they have already used their one year working holiday visa that they are excluded from any other visa programme. But workers are are entitled to sponsorship visas provided they have secured employment.

Our next roadshow will be held in October, and it will be interesting to see if these outlooks and attitudes persist among our emigrating Irish.