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Returning emigrants struggling with ‘reverse culture shock’

Red-tape issues hamper returning emigrants and emotional readjustment also takes a toll

Wanting to bring children up in Ireland is a priority when considering a move back home, a report has revealed. Photograph: Getty Images

While many returning emigrants have a hard time finding a job and a place to live when they move home to Ireland, often the biggest challenge they face is the emotional readjustment.

A new survey of Irish people who have recently returned from abroad, conducted by Crosscare Migrant Project, has found that reintegrating into Irish society was a bigger challenge than many expected, with one-in-five citing it as a significant challenge.

Some respondents said they had experienced “reverse culture shock”, similar to when they first emigrated and had to integrate into a new country and culture abroad.

“Mentally it was tough. At times it felt like the country I was born in was making it as difficult as possible for me to move back,” one respondent wrote.

Others said there was little understanding of how they were feeling, from friends and family. “People expect you to just return to normal as though you have never been away.”

Discrimination

Some respondents referred to “closed and insular” and “patriarchal and conservative” attitudes, while others expressed feelings of discrimination against their non-Irish family members.

One-in-five expressed upset over leaving friends behind overseas, their “homesickness for friends in Australia”, as one respondent wrote. Another expressed disappointment that the “adventure is over, life is more mundane here compared to abroad”.

Four hundred people responded to the online survey, conducted by Crosscare Migrant Project, a Government-funded service supporting intending and returning emigrants.

The survey was conducted in an effort to fill in the “gap in knowledge around the experiences of returning emigrants and their resettlement in Ireland in the past two years, in a post-recession environment”.

A desire to be closer to family is the most common reason given for moving back home, with 83 per cent saying that was their motivation.

Wanting to bring children up in Ireland was also high on the priority list, along with homesickness.

Temporary

One-in-four said they had only planned to live abroad temporarily, and this was their reason for returning, while one-in-10 said visa expiry had prompted them to move home. Four per cent had been made redundant from their jobs.

Just 15 per cent identified employment opportunities in Ireland as a significant factor in their decision to return.

Respondents had returned mainly from Australia, at 41 per cent, followed by the UK, the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and New Zealand. A majority had spent between two and five years living overseas, and two-thirds were women. Almost one-third brought children home with them.

“Red tape” issues were identified as the most common challenges experienced by returning emigrants, with 40 per cent of respondents saying they had difficulty with paperwork, followed by employment, and accommodation.

Many respondents referred to having difficulties with car insurance, with companies not recognising no-claims bonuses or clean driving licences from abroad. Some participants said they were considered “new drivers”, and offered extortionate quotes or refused insurance altogether.

Taxes

Tax rates are perceived to be high among many respondents, with one saying “the higher tax would be a reason to leave for another tempting job offer”. The Universal Social Charge and PAYE were often mentioned, in tandem with “high costs of living” and “lower wages”.

Getting qualifications recognised was referenced as a “long and difficult process”, and costly, especially by respondents working in teaching and nursing, with one saying they had to wait five months for official recognition of their qualifications.

For construction workers, levies on importing their tools were raised as an issue, with one person saying they had to pay “30 per cent VAT on tools that I shipped to Australia three years ago”.

Finding suitable employment was identified by 38 per cent of respondents as a challenge, with most complaints relating to the short-term contracts and low wages on offer compared to where they were living overseas. Some mentioned difficulty finding work outside Dublin, while others said they felt their overseas experience was “undervalued”.

Accommodation

Affordable rental accommodation was “nearly impossible” to find, according to some respondents, with 24 per cent identifying housing as a considerable challenge they faced on return. Some said they had to live with their parents because they couldn’t afford to rent, while others mentioned poor standards.

Minister of State for Diaspora Joe McHugh said the results of the Crosscare report would feed in to a forthcoming Government plan to address the needs of returning Irish citizens, which has recently received Cabinet approval.

“Our work has also identified many of the issues highlighted in this report, and while some of these are complex and are not limited to the returning Irish, it is clear that we must continue to work to address issues which can have disproportionate effects on returning emigrants,” he said.