Leaving Ireland for work and also a better life abroad

The Lehman legacy: Emigration fallout


Two of the most significant impacts of the global financial crisis on Irish society have been the sharp rise in unemployment and the corresponding increase in the number of people leaving Ireland for better opportunities abroad.

At the beginning of 2008, just 4.9 per cent of the population was unemployed. In the 12 months to April that year, just 13,100 Irish people emigrated, and you would have been hard pressed to find many among them who felt they had no choice but to go. Ireland was a major receiver of immigrants, with 89,200 people arriving from abroad that year to make this country home.

By October 2008, unemployment had risen to 7.7 per cent and continued to increase, peaking at 15 per cent at the beginning of 2012. Although the percentage figure has dropped since then to 13.4 per cent last month, the figures have been skewed by a massive increase inpeople emigrating.

A total of 50,900 Irish left the country in the 12 months to April this year, almost quadruple the 2008 figure.

That’s an average of 140 Irish people every day, bringing the total number of Irish who have emigrated in the last five years to 187,500.

It is important to note too that 96,800 Irish people moved back to live here from abroad in that five-year period, but that still leaves a net figure of 90,700.

These official figures from the Central Statistics Office reveal little about the motivations of migrants, about their reasons for moving away. But it would be difficult for anyone to argue the rise in emigration is not directly linked to the rise in unemployment, implying that the vast majority who have left since the recession have done so in search of work abroad.

No choice
Those who feel they have no choice but to go, many of whom have been long-term unemployed or see little hope of a job here for them in the distant future, make up a large chunk.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan ruffled some feathers last year when he called emigration a “choice of lifestyle” for some, but he was right in a sense.

Qualitative research by organisations such as the National Youth Council of Ireland, and by this newspaper, show a significant number moving abroad now are young people who would have left Ireland regardless of the economic circumstances here – for the cultural experiences, for work opportunities, for the fun of it.

But there is another, often forgotten group of emigrants, who are leaving in increasing numbers – those who have a job here but are opting to move in search of a better quality of life elsewhere.

Wage cuts, tax hikes and limited promotion opportunities in the workplace are taking their toll, leading many to leave full-time jobs here to move abroad, often with a family in tow.