One in six Irish-born people now live abroad

Ireland has highest share in OECD of over-15s born here but living overseas

More than one in six Irish-born people are now living abroad, the highest share of any country in the OECD.

New analysis from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows 17.5 per cent of people over the age of 15 who were born in Ireland were residing overseas in 2014, topping the survey of the 34 OECD member countries.

Ireland outranked New Zealand and Portugal, both with 14 per cent of their over-15 populations living abroad, followed by Mexico, Luxembourg and Iceland, which all have about 12 per cent residing overseas.

The findings are contained in a chapter on Irish migration in the latest biennial assessment of the Irish economy, published by the OECD this week.


The report said the latest recession in Ireland caused emigration to “resurge” after a period of high immigration and low emigration during the Celtic Tiger, and the “resulting population outflow has been large, both by international and Irish historical standards”.

Although the latest migration figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicate the outflow of people from Ireland has begun to slow, "emigration remains high", the OECD report said.

A total of 80,900 people of all nationalities moved out of Ireland in the 12 months to April, according to the CSO, 1,000 fewer than in the previous 12 months. Some 35,300 Irish nationals left, down 13 per cent on the previous year.

“Emigration has played an important role in Ireland as a macroeconomic adjustment mechanism, preventing unemployment rates above 20 per cent seen in other crisis countries and limiting scarring effects of being out of work. But it also entails trade-offs and risks,” the report said.

Before the recession began, Ireland had one of the largest youth cohorts in the OECD, but this has “this age advantage has decreased”, with high youth emigration a leading factor, according to the report.

CSO figures show that over the past seven years, the Irish population has seen a 34 per cent drop in the number of 20- to 24-year-olds, and a 27.5 per cent drop in 25- to 29-year-olds.

Poor prospects

Summarising the reasons for high emigration, the OECD report cites high unemployment, poor career prospects and low salaries compared to other advanced economies. Average salaries for recent graduates in Ireland fell about 12 per cent between 2007 and 2014, according to the Central Bank of Ireland.

The public sector recruitment embargo has had an impact on career opportunities for workers in these sectors in Ireland, according to the OECD assessment, with one in five Irish emigrants employed in the health and social work sectors in their destination countries. A significant proportion are also employed in education, while high numbers working in real estate, renting and business services reflect the contraction in these sectors during the recession.

Although emigration out of Ireland will “remain significant” in the coming years, the OECD predicts the numbers leaving will continue to fall gradually as the Irish economy improves, while the numbers immigrating will progressively rise. Based on projected unemployment rates in Ireland, the EU and the destination countries for Irish emigrants, it predicts net migration will remain negative in 2016, with 12,000 more leaving the country than coming here.

This forecast contradicts Government predictions; at the publication of the Diaspora Policy Review in April, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said 2016 would be the year when immigration was expected to overtake emigration.

Returning emigrants

Returning Irish emigrants “could play a significant role in the recovery of Ireland’s economy”, by bringing back “skills, relevant working experience and networks”, the OECD report said.

But more needed to be done to improve Ireland’s attractiveness as a destination for highly skilled workers, including ensuring the availability of affordable housing and childcare, and a higher standard of education and healthcare provision.

The report also recommended tax incentives to encourage Irish emigrants to return, including tax deductions for relocation expenses such as travel. This would help to attract skilled workers to take up jobs in multinationals and domestic companies.

The report said political representation for emigrants and the lack of a right to vote in Irish elections left "significant room for improvement". Ireland is one of the only countries in Europe not to allow its overseas citizens a vote.

“Allowing for the participation of Irish emigrants in [THE]domestic electoral process would reinforce their attachment to Ireland, would bolster the linkages that Ireland has been successfully building over the years, and would make a positive contribution to emigrants’ wellbeing.”