Non-recognition of qualifications is a major barrier for returning emigrants

Three years after the Government identified this as an issue, little has been done

From healthcare and human resources to construction, many workers have trouble getting their overseas qualifications recognised in Ireland. Photograph: iStock

As part of a consultation process for the Government's first Global Irish Diaspora Policy, published in March 2015, "recognition of qualifications" was identified as one of the main barriers for emigrants looking to make a move back to Ireland.

An interdepartmental committee, established under the diaspora policy, was to meet four times a year to examine this issue – along with recognition of driving licences, lack of affordable housing, and job opportunities – and “minimise the difficulties that these challenges present”.

Almost three years later, returning emigrants are still facing all the same barriers. Difficulty getting their overseas qualifications and experience recognised is one of the biggest challenges, preventing some people from moving back and leading others to re-emigrate.

Kevin Wall, who shares his story with Irish Times Abroad, has a CV listing 17 construction licences and certificates including crane, dumper, roller and forklift operation, and heavy vehicle driving licences. He obtained them all at a personal cost of $18,000 over four years while living in Sydney.


Wall returned to live in Clonmel, Co Tipperary in September 2016 to discover none of his licences would be recognised by an Irish employer. He was informed by Solas that, as these courses were completed outside the European Union, he would have to re-do them in order to work in these areas in Ireland. Unable to afford to re-train, Wall moved back to Australia last week and will resume working with his old employer in Sydney on Monday.

Solas Scheme

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2006, workers operating machinery such as cranes, excavators and dumpers must have a Solas Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) registration card when working on a construction site in Ireland, or be a trainee under supervision.

CSCS cards are issued only to workers with a Fetac or QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) qualification, or an equivalent from another EU country. Ireland has no agreement in place with any other non-EU country to recognise professional qualifications.

Owen Devine: ‘The training we receive here is above and beyond what is taught in Ireland, yet these licences may as well be rubbish upon returning home’

Owen Devine, from Drogheda, Co Louth, has been living in Perth and working in mining for 10 years. He would love to move home but this issue is a big barrier preventing him. His Australian licences include scaffolding, excavating, working at heights and driving dangerous goods. He estimates it would cost €10,000 or more to retrain in Ireland.

“The training we receive here is above and beyond what is taught in Ireland, yet these licences may as well be rubbish upon returning home,” he says.

“I can drive around here with 10 tonnes of explosives on my truck and carry dangerous goods, but yet the Irish Government will only give me a simple car licence.

“You hear the Government in Ireland urging people to return home. My question is, for what? They do absolutely nothing to help us.”

It is an issue Crosscare Migrant Project, a Government-funded agency supporting Irish emigrants and immigrants, deals with on behalf of their clients. Last week they were contacted by an electrician with 20 years’ experience in Australia, who had moved to Ireland with his Irish partner, to be told by Solas he would have to become an apprentice again in order to get certified to work.

‘Failure of our system’

“This is a failure of our system to support returning emigrants who have gained valuable skills and experience that our country can benefit from,” says Crosscare policy officer Danielle McLaughlin.

“Industries are losing out, and thousands of Irish emigrants are getting the message that they may not be able to work when they return. We’d like to see qualifications from some of the major emigrant destinations recognised, particularly from countries with similar regulatory systems to ours.”

Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform says this is not a problem exclusive to construction workers. He has dealt with queries from Irish people with experience in healthcare and human resources who have also had trouble getting their overseas qualifications recognised on return to Ireland.

“People have gone overseas, trained up and advanced their skills, so that when they would return, they would not only bring their current skills home with them but extra skills and training,” he says.

“The Government are putting up the posters in airports saying, ‘come back’, but when you do move back, you’re dropped as soon as you arrive.”

Last year Minister of State for Diaspora Ciaran Cannon commissioned Indecon, an economic research organisation, to produce another report on the improvements needed to facilitate returning emigrants, due to be published in the coming weeks.

Although the Department of Foreign Affairs couldn’t comment on what issues would be examined, a statement said it is “aware that some returning emigrants have had difficulties in relation to transferability of qualifications on their return to Ireland”.

This issue is certain to feature in the Indecon report, just like it did in the diaspora policy consultation three years ago. What many returning emigrants will be waiting to hear is, what is the Government going to do about it?