‘Forced’ emigration falls as Irish put down roots overseas

Irish Times survey shows emigrants becoming embedded abroad

There has been a significant drop in "forced" migration from Ireland as the economy improves, this year's Irish Times Generation Emigration survey suggests.

There is also evidence in the survey that this generation of Irish emigrants are putting down more permanent roots abroad. One-fifth of respondents have bought a home abroad, 22 per cent have married, 12 per cent have had children, and half have been promoted at work.

Fewer than one in four emigrants surveyed who left Ireland in the past three years said they had felt “forced” to leave, down from one in three who departed in the early years of the recession, between 2008 and 2012.

More than 300,000 Irish people emigrated between 2008 and 2015, according to the Central Statistics Office. Although the numbers leaving each year have fallen slightly since the peak in 2013, when 50,900 Irish moved abroad, a total of 35,300 still left in the 12 months to April last year.


Just six per cent of respondents who had emigrated in 2015 said they had not gone by choice, with an increasing proportion saying they had moved “to experience a change”.

The UK had the highest share of involuntary emigrants, with 39 per cent of participants living there overall saying they had felt "forced" to leave, compared with 24 per cent in Australia and New Zealand, and just 16 per cent living in mainland European countries.

Irish-born people

The survey, conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of The Irish Times, interviewed 350 Irish-born people who emigrated between 2008 and 2015.

The results show a substantial drop in the proportion of recent emigrants who were unemployed before leaving Ireland. Survey participants who moved overseas in the early years of the recession (2008-2012) were twice as likely to be unemployed than more recent emigrants who left between 2013 and 2015.

Just 3 per cent of respondents who emigrated in 2015 were unemployed before leaving, compared with approximately one in five who left in 2010.

Overall, 72 per cent of respondents who emigrated since 2008 had a job before departing, with just 14 per cent unemployed and 13 per cent leaving straight from school or college. Men were more likely to be unemployed than women. Ninety-eight per cent of our overseas interviewees are now working.

Participants who felt “forced” to leave the country were far more likely to have been unemployed in Ireland.

Motivations for moving abroad are also changing. Among participants who left between 2008 and 2012, more than half cited finding work or getting a better job as their main reason for moving. This dropped to 36 per cent for those who left in the last three years.

Recent leavers were more likely to say they wanted to “experience a change”, with one in five saying this was their main motivation, up from 13 per cent among the early leavers.

Women were more likely than men to say they moved abroad for love, with 13 per cent saying their main reason for emigrating was to be with a spouse or partner, compared with just 4 per cent of males.

Men are more motivated by work than women, however, with just over half of them citing this as the main incentive.

Irish people living in the UK are very driven by career opportunities, the survey shows; 55 per cent said work was the main reason they had moved there, compared to just 32 per cent in Europe and 39 per cent in Canada.