Will Ireland’s booming economy entice another influx of migrants?

Migration numbers to be published by CSO next week set to provide clearer picture

In the 12 months to April 2017, the Republic had net inward migration of just under 20,000. Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters

In the 12 months to April 2017, the Republic had net inward migration of just under 20,000. Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters


Next week the Central Statistics Office (CSO) will publish one of its most picked-over and pondered stats: immigration.

Last year, or more precisely in the 12 months to April 2017, we had net inward migration of just under 20,000, meaning the number of people entering the country eclipsed the number of people exiting by 20,000. This was the highest level recorded since 2008 and marked a significant turning point after several years of net emigration.

On Tuesday we’ll get the 2018 stat. There’s an assumption that Ireland’s booming economy and a conspicuous skills shortage in certain sectors such as construction will precipitate another surge in net inward migration similar to what we had in the mid-2000s when there was a big influx of workers from Eastern Europe.

But this is unlikely for several reasons. Much of the influx back then – we had net inward migration of 105,000 in 2007 – can be explained by European Union enlargement, which saw 10 new member states joining the bloc.

More typically immigration is driven by two things: geographical proximity – meaning the closer you are to the source the more likely you are to receive immigrants – and the differential in income or standard of living. The Republic is geographically peripheral for migrants coming from Africa or from Eastern Europe, and we’re mid-table in Europe in terms of wages, making us a favourable destination but not perhaps the most desirable.

For John McCartney of property agency Savills, these factors mitigate against a rapid pick-up in net inward migration. Instead he believes the number will probably increase but won’t be anything like what we saw in the mid 2000s.

He also points to the CSO’s quarterly Labour Force Survey, which indicates population growth this year has slowed, suggesting we’re not seeing a major influx of migrants here.

Another piece of the jigsaw is provided by the Live Register. An increasing proportion of the jobs being created in the Irish economy are being filled by the Live Register than was the case two years, which suggests reactivated workers here rather than foreign labour are picking the slack in the labour market.