Recent emigrants asked: Will you move back to Ireland?
Most post-2008 emigrants not ready to return, Irish Times survey finds
One of the first images visiting emigrants were met with at a festive Dublin Airport last Christmas was a poster of a smiling emigrant supposedly just like them, who had returned home to Ireland for good.
The Government’s #HomeToWork advertising and social media campaign was in full swing, attempting to convince Irish people like Toronto-based vet Michael John Winters, who had moved abroad in 2011, to consider moving back.
But word didn’t spread far enough, according to a new survey of emigrants carried out by Ipsos MRBI for The Irish Times. The Generation Emigration Survey has found that two-thirds of those who left Ireland between 2008 and 2015 had never heard of the campaign. Seven in ten respondents said the Government was not doing enough to encourage people to return to live in Ireland.
In any case, more than half of them do not believe the Irish economy has improved enough to offer the opportunities they need to move back, despite a dramatic drop in unemployment in Ireland – now at 7.8 per cent – since the height of the recession.
Ruairi Spillane, who moved to Vancouver in 2008 and runs the Moving2Canada information website and Outpost Recruitment, an agency specialising in engineering and construction, says “people don’t believe the hype” about the recovering economy in Ireland.
“Wages are low, the work environment isn’t very positive and lots of Irish people are scared to give up what they have in Canada without seeing any major improvement,” he says.
“The construction sector beyond Dublin is non-existent, so many workers in this sector believe the UK may offer better long-term opportunities if they want to be closer to home.”
Eimear Beattie, a teacher from Co Tipperary who has been living in Perth with her family for five years, says the Irish in Australia are also sceptical about what Ireland can offer them. This caution is often expressed among the 12,000 members of the Irish Families in Perth Facebook group, which Beattie runs.
“We have many cases of people who were forced to leave Ireland now buying houses and feeling settled here, while others on our page who have moved home plead with them not to return, as they find few signs of an economic improvement outside the Pale,” she says.
While Beattie has noticed an increase in the numbers moving home or on to the east coast of Australia as the economy in Western Australia tightens, she believes “most of the families who have emigrated out here in the last five years will never return”.
This is reflected quite starkly in the Generation Emigration Survey: 22 per cent of respondents said they don’t see themselves returning to live here in the future. This sentiment was highest among the over-35s, at 29 per cent. It falls to 20 per cent for those in the 25-34 age group, and 13 per cent among under-25s.
Desire to return
But the desire to move home is still strong among many recent emigrants; 63 per cent said they do plan to return “at some point” in the future, while a further 16 per cent were undecided.
Emigrants polled in Australia and New Zealand were most likely to say they plan to be home within three years at 30 per cent, compared with 19 per cent in the UK and just 2 per cent in the US.
Thirty-seven per cent of those who plan to move back to Ireland said the most likely triggers relate to “family”.
Just one in five said work or a job offer would be the main cause, while 16 per cent said starting or raising a family, 16 per cent said homesickness, and 12 per cent said improvements in the economy.
Marion O’Hagan of the Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau in Melbourne has noticed a significant increase recently in the number of “recession emigrants” deciding to move back.
“They came out as single people, they got married, they had a child, and then they move back because of the grandparents, because they don’t have the support or the babysitters here,” she says.
“The biggest factor is homesickness, that’s the initial thing that makes them want to go home. What actually sends them back is the fact that Ireland is improving; they see the possibility now to go home and have a good life. But it is all connected with missing family.”
But is family in Ireland a good enough reason for everyone to leave their lives abroad behind? It doesn’t appear so. Of the emigrants surveyed who plan to stay where they are, 39 per cent said it is because they are settled with good friends, 36 per cent cited a better lifestyle, 25 per cent said they have a better job or career prospects where they are, and 20 per cent said they are earning more or are paying less tax.
Those who felt forced to emigrate were more likely to say they were staying abroad for their careers, while those who left by choice were more motivated by a better quality of life and the weather.
When asked what they think would be the most difficult thing about returning to live in Ireland, emigrants identified employment difficulties and “settling back into the Irish way of life” as the biggest challenges. Eleven per cent said the Irish weather would present a problem, 11 per cent would miss the lifestyles they enjoy now, 8 per cent expect that finding accommodation would be hard, and 6 per cent would find it difficult to adjust to lower wages .
Taxation has been a hot political topic when it comes to the discussion about encouraging emigrants back. Irish tax rates are a big issue for many of those surveyed, with almost one in five saying it would be an “impediment to returning”. Just one in three thought Irish taxes are “fair” compared with other countries’.
Ireland’s dearth of secular schools was an issue for some parents; one in four said it would be a concern if they wanted to return.
With so many obstacles foreseen by the emigrants we surveyed, it seems it will take a lot more than a hashtag and an ad campaign to entice them home.
The Generation Emigration Survey was conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of The Irish Times. Irish nationals who had emigrated since 2008 were interviewed by phone from May 20th to June 2nd.