Rise in immigration is positive but workers need place to live
Good news on returning Irish emigrants overshadowed by obstacles they encounter
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: the people behind the immigration figures he has welcomed face real problems of finance, career progress and accommodation. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
It was the migration data the Government had been waiting for since the numbers leaving Ireland began to rocket post-2008.
On Tuesday, at the same press briefing to announce that the number of people at work in Ireland is now 20,000 higher than before the crash, the Central Statistics Office revealed that the number of Irish emigrants moving back to Ireland had finally overtaken the numbers leaving, also a first since 2008.
Immigration of all nationalities was up by 6.7 per cent to 90,300 in the year to April, with returning Irish emigrants making up almost one-third of the total.
In the past decade, more than 370,000 Irish people have left the country. In the same period, about 235,000 Irish have moved back to Ireland from overseas. It’s a significant deficit to make up, of 135,000 citizens.
Economically driven migration often lags a few years behind unemployment changes, so when the recession hit in 2008, it was a few years before the numbers of Irish deciding to up and leave peaked, with 49,700 Irish emigrating in 2012.
“Nine years after crash and the pain of forced emigration, more Irish citizens [are] now coming home than moving abroad. We’re on the right track. But there’s more to do,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted, linking to a news report on the CSO figures on Tuesday.
The response on Twitter was immediate and predictable for anyone familiar with the experiences of returning emigrants The Irish Times has been publishing in its Abroad section online for several years now.
“Have seen a few people come home lately, last six months and head off again. Taxed for services that don’t work, asked for rents they can’t afford, getting entry-level positions at 28/29 despite international experience, can’t afford to run a car,” wrote one of the more than 100 people who replied to the Taoiseach’s tweet.
“How can a return to Ireland be a viable option with the current housing crisis?” wrote another.
Earlier this year, a 139-page report commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs, compiling the experiences of more than 1,000 returning emigrants on the challenges they faced, revealed a litany of difficulties. These ranged from the cost of car insurance to high rents, and from problems accessing social welfare or applying for mortgages and loans to having their overseas work experience recognised by employers.
These are not new problems. Most, if not all, were identified by the Government’s own diaspora policy document back in 2014.
The Cabinet is due to report its progress on a number of actions to combat these problems to Minister of State with special responsibility for the Diaspora Ciaran Cannon when it returns from the summer break, but the most fundamental issue is access to affordable housing, a problem not only for returning Irish citizens, but also for new immigrants, and those already resident in Ireland.
The CSO figures show the Irish population overall has increased by 64,500 people in just 12 months, and if this level of growth sustains, it can only pile further pressure on an already acute accommodation crisis.
Based on these latest CSO figures, KBC Bank Ireland economist Austin Hughes estimates that the net inward migration figure of 34,000 alone may be driving up demand by an additional 10,000-15,000 units.
Business groups such as Ibec stress the need for sustained inward migration to maintain economic growth, but people moving here need somewhere to live.