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. This is the second Irish Times poll of Irish emigrants. The first took place in 2012.
Reasons for emigrating
What age are you?
Almost two-thirds of all emigrants surveyed fell into the 25 to 34 age group, while 19 per cent were 35 to 44, and 5 per cent were aged over 45. Eleven per cent were under 25. The UK and Australia/New Zealand had larger young populations. Of those surveyed under the age of 25, 31 per cent were in the UK and 29 per cent in Australia/New Zealand.
What is the highest level of education you achieved?
The emigrants surveyed were more highly educated than the general population in Ireland, with 65 per cent holding a degree, master's or PhD. The percentage was even higher for women, with 72 per cent educated to at least degree level, compared with 60 per cent of men.
Nineteen per cent of those surveyed overall had a third level certificate or diploma, which was almost evenly split across both sexes, but 22 per cent of men had been educated to Leaving Certificate level only, compared with 8 per cent of women.
Mainland Europe and the UK had the largest groups of highly-educated respondents, with more than seven in 10 holding at least a degree.
Respondents with a higher level of education were more likely to choose to emigrate. Of those with a master’s or PhD, 75 per cent said they had left Ireland voluntarily, compared with 63 per cent of those with a Leaving Cert or diploma.
Were you working in Ireland before you emigrated?
Most were working in Ireland before they emigrated (72 per cent), with just 14 per cent unemployed and 13 per cent coming straight from school or college. Men were more likely to be unemployed, with 17 per cent saying they didn’t have a job before leaving compared to 11 per cent of women.
Emigrants who left in the early years of the recession were twice as likely to be unemployed than more recent emigrants; 18 per cent of those who left between 2008 and 2012 were jobless before departure, compared with just 9 per cent of those who left in the last three years.
Participants who felt “forced” to leave the country were far more likely to have been unemployed. Just 6 per cent of those who said they emigrated by choice were unemployed before leaving, compared to 34 per cent of the ones who said they felt forced.
Just 3 per cent of respondents who emigrated in 2015 were unemployed before leaving, compared to 21 per cent of those who left in 2010.
Would you have stayed in Ireland if you were employed, or would you have left anyway?
(Base: All unemployed before emigrating)
The UK was the most popular destination for unemployed emigrants, with approximately four in ten jobless respondents going there. Two in ten went to the US, with slightly lower numbers going to Australia/New Zealand. Very small numbers of unemployed emigrants went to Canada, mainland Europe or the "rest of world" destinations.
Of those who were unemployed before leaving 64 per cent said they would have stayed if they were employed or could have found permanent employment, while 30 per cent said they would have left anyway. Work was a bigger factor for men, with three in four saying they would have stayed in Ireland if there had been better employment opportunities.
Did you emigrate alone or with others?
Almost half (46 per cent) of all participants emigrated alone. The younger the person is the more likely they were to have moved abroad on their own; 55 per cent of under-25s left solo, compared to just 42 per cent of over-35s. Men (51 per cent) were more likely to emigrate alone than women (40 per cent), who preferred to go with friends (24 per cent, compared to 19 per cent of men). Those living in Australia, New Zealand and Canada were much more likely to have gone with friends or a partner than those emigrating to the UK, US, Europe or the "rest of world" destinations; 61 per cent living in the UK went alone, compared with just 24 per cent in Australia and New Zealand.
Did you feel forced to emigrate?
There has been a significant drop in “forced” migration among survey participants since 2008. Just 24 per cent of those who left in the last three years said they had felt “forced”, down from 34 per cent of respondents who emigrated between 2008 and 2012. Just two of the 33 participants who had emigrated in 2015 said they felt “forced” to leave.
Women were more likely to have left by choice overall (72 per cent, compared with 66 per cent of men). The older the person was, the more likely they were to have felt they had no choice: 41 per cent of over-35s said they felt “forced”, falling to 29 per cent for 25- to 34-year-olds and just 16 per cent for those under 25. Half of all involuntary emigrants surveyed left alone.
The UK was the most common destination for involuntary emigrants, with 39 per cent of participants living there saying they felt “forced”, compared with 24 per cent of those in Australia or New Zealand, and just 16 per cent in Mainland European countries.
The more education the participant had, the more likely they were to have left by choice: just 24 per cent of respondents with an MA or PhD said they felt forced to leave, compared to 36 per cent with a Leaving Certificate or diploma.
What is the main reason you emigrated?
The reasons motivating people to emigrate are also changing. Among survey participants who left between 2008 and 2012, 52 per cent cited finding work or getting a better job as their main reason for leaving, which dropped to 36 per cent for those who moved abroad in the last three years. Recent leavers are more likely to say they wanted to “experience a change”, with 21 per cent saying this was their main motivation, up from 13 per cent among the early leavers. Women are more likely to move abroad for love than men, with 13 per cent saying their main reason for emigrating was to be with a spouse or partner, compared with just 4 per cent of males. Men are more motivated by work, however, with 52 per cent citing this as their main reason, compared with 39 per cent of women. The UK is the most popular destination for survey participants moving for work purposes - 55 per cent of participants living there cited this as their main reason for moving there, compared with just 32 per cent of those in Europe and 39 per cent in Canada. Emigrants to Mainland Europe were more likely to have moved for a “better quality of life” or to be with a spouse or partner.
Are you employed now?
The vast majority of emigrants surveyed are now working, with 98 per cent saying they are currently employed abroad.
What is your current job?
Base: All who are employed now. Caution: sample sizes by industry are small.
Construction was the largest employer, with 18 percent of those surveyed working in the sector, 10 per cent as professionals and 8 per cent in a trade. Australia was a particularly attractive destination for construction workers, with 26 per cent of all emigrants going there since 2008 involved in the industry.
Construction is a less common employer for those surveyed who left Ireland since 2013 than those who left earlier in the recession: construction professionals make up 11 per cent of those surveyed abroad who left Ireland in 2008-2012, compared with just 7 per cent of emigrants who left since 2013. Those who left 2008-2012 are more likely to work in banking and financial services - the sector employs 9 per cent of early leavers, compared with just 2 per cent of recent leavers.
Compared to the job you had in Ireland, is the job you have now better or not as good?
(Base: All working before emigrating)
Most people surveyed who had been working before they left Ireland felt that they had a better job now (84 per cent), 9 per cent said it was about the same, while only 4 per cent said it was not as good.
The US had the largest percentage of respondents who felt they had better jobs (92 per cent), followed by mainland Europe with 85 per cent, Canada with 79 per cent and Australia with 78 per cent.
Older participants were more likely to have a better job in the country they had emigrated to than younger participants. Of those surveyed who were over 35, 91 per cent said they had a better job abroad, compared with 83 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds, and 70 per cent of under-25s.
What type of visa do you hold?
Just over one in ten respondents (11 per cent) living in a country outside the EU now have citizenship where they live now, while 43 per cent have permanent residency and 31 per cent are on a fixed-term work visa. Five per cent are living illegally after their visa has expired.
Is your quality of life better where you live now, or do you think it would be better in Ireland?
The quality of life abroad is better than it would be in Ireland, according to 79 per cent of emigrants surveyed. Participants in Australia reported the best quality of life, with 87 per cent saying theirs was better where they were than it would be if they returned home. The longer the emigrant has been abroad the more likely they are to think their quality of life is better there than it would be at home: just 11 per cent of people who left between 2008 and 2012 said they thought it would be better in Ireland, rising to 19 per cent for those who left in the last three years.
Are you happier than when you lived in Ireland?
Emigrants are much happier abroad than they were in Ireland. Seven out of ten say they are happier overall, with just 6 per cent saying they are less happy. Participants living in Canada report the highest levels of happiness at 79 per cent, compared with just 58 per cent in “rest of the world” countries. Those who said they felt forced to emigrate were the least happy abroad, with 12 per cent saying they are less happy now than they were in Ireland. The percentage falls to just 3 per cent for those who left by choice.
There has been a big change in the happiness of the “early leavers” since 2012 - just 4 per cent of them now report feeling less happy than they were in Ireland, compared with 22 per cent back in 2012.
If you have a partner what is their nationality?
Irish emigrants surveyed were much more likely be in a relationship than single, with 72 per cent saying they had a partner. The US was the country where participants were most likely to be single, with 45 per cent saying they did not have a partner.
Respondents living in Australia/New Zealand and Canada were more likely to stick together, with approximately six in ten coupled with an Irish person, compared to 40 per cent in the UK and 38 per cent in the US.
The longer they have spent abroad, the more likely they are to be in a relationship with someone from the country they are living in. “Early leavers” who emigrated between 2008 and 2012 were twice as likely (at 20 per cent) to have partner born in the country they emigrated to than then respondents who left between 2013 and 2015. Early leavers were also more likely to have a partner born in a country other than Ireland or the one they were currently living in.
Is your social circle mostly Irish or non-Irish?
The Irish in Canada, Australia and New Zealand stick together abroad; Between 71 and 72 per cent of emigrants living in these countries said their social circle consisted of mostly Irish people.
Young people were less likely to have made non-Irish friends: 71 per cent of under-25s said their friends were mostly Irish, compared with 64 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds and just 41 per cent of over-35s. Overall, 59 per cent of participants have mostly Irish friends abroad, with the figure slightly higher for men than women (62 per cent compared to 56 per cent). Those living in Mainland Europe are most likely to have integrated with non-Irish people, with just 16 per cent saying their friends are mostly Irish.
Do you do any of the following activities?
Respondents remain very connected their Irish roots, with 42 per cent participating in Irish community groups or sports, 74 per cent keeping up to date with Irish current affairs, 67 per cent following Irish sport, and 76 per cent following Irish-based media.
The Irish in the US had the highest participation in Irish community activities and sports, with 57 per cent of respondents living there saying they did so, followed by 52 per cent in Australia and New Zealand. Residents of Mainland European countries had the lowest participation at 16 per cent, followed by the UK at 36 per cent.
Younger people are more likely to get involved, with 55 per cent of the under-25s saying they do so, compared with 43 per cent for 25-34-year-olds and 36 per cent of those over 35.
Young people are also keener followers of Irish sport, with 79 per cent of under-25s saying they do so, falling to 69 per cent for the 25 to 34 cohort, and 58 per cent for the over-35s.
UK residents had a low participation rate, with just 36 per cent saying they are involved in Irish groups or sports.
Do you use social media?
There is no doubt that social media has changed the way emigrants communicate, with 94 per cent of survey participants saying they use it. More than 8 in 10 use Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp to keep in touch with people in Ireland, while a similar percentage use Skype, Facetime or Hangout. Younger people were higher users of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, with 92 per cent saying they used the apps to keep in contact with people in Ireland, falling to 86 per cent of the 25-34-year-olds and 69 per cent of the over 35s.
Younger people were also more likely to follow social media pages for Irish people in the place where they are now living, with 76 per cent of under-25s following them compared with just 31 per cent of over-35s. Irish community social media groups were particularly popular in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Women are slightly higher users of social media overall.
Since emigrating, have you ...?
Survey participants are rooting themselves abroad, with almost one in five (19%) saying they have bought a house since leaving Ireland. This rises to 37 per cent of those over the age of 35. Fourteen per cent have got married since emigrating, while 12 per cent have had children. Even those who said they had felt “forced” to emigrate are settling, with a similar percentage buying a house abroad to those who said they had emigrated by choice.
Their careers are also progressing, with half of all people polled saying they have been promoted abroad. Men (57 per cent) were more likely to have moved ahead in their careers than women (42 per cent), but women were more likely to have received further training or a qualification since leaving Ireland. The UK was the best place for career progression, with 58 per cent of residents saying they had been promoted there, compared with just 40 per cent in mainland European countries.
Have you saved money since emigrating?
Survey participants are doing well financially abroad, with almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) saying they have put money into savings. Residents of “rest of the world” destinations were the best savers, with 100 per cent of them saying they had put money aside, followed by those living in the US (98 per cent), and Australia and New Zealand (91 per cent). Those in the UK and mainland Europe were the least likely to save, with about 2 in 10 saying they hadn’t saved anything since moving there.
What has been the greatest challenge?
The “distance from loved ones” was cited as the greatest challenge faced by 31 per cent of people polled. This was more of a problem for women (35 per cent) than men (27 per cent), and for recent leavers (34 per cent) over those who had been gone longer than three years (28 per cent). The further the respondent was from Ireland, the more likely they were to cite distance as a big problem for them; 42 per cent of people in Australia and 36 per cent in Canada said it was the biggest challenge they have faced since moving abroad, compared with just 25 per cent in the UK.
Finding a place to live was a particular challenge for 16 per cent of people living in the UK, while finding a job was the biggest problem faced by 26 per cent of people in Canada. Almost one in three respondents in mainland Europe said dealing with language difficulties was their biggest challenge, while visa and migration issues were the biggest issue for 17 per cent of people in the US.
Returning to Ireland
How frequently have you been home to Ireland since you emigrated?
Four in ten emigrants polled visit Ireland a few times a year, with 74 per cent saying they make it back at least once a year or more. Those living in the UK and mainland Europe are most likely to visit on a monthly basis, with 12 per cent in Europe and 13 per cent in the UK saying they come home at least once a month. The further they live from Ireland, the less frequently they come home; less than half of those polled in Australia and New Zealand travel back annually or more often, with 35 per cent of them visiting every two to three years, and 15 per cent saying they haven’t been home at all. The women polled travel home more often, with 51 per cent visiting Ireland a few times a year, compared with 42 per cent of men. The higher educated the person is, the more they travel back - 81 per cent of those with a MA or PhD visit at least once a year, which falls to 77 per cent for those with a degree, and 65 per cent with Leaving Cert or a diploma.
Do you plan to return home to live in Ireland?
More than one in five (22 per cent ) emigrants polled said they don’t see themselves returning to live in Ireland in the future. This was highest among the over 35s at 29 per cent, falling to 20 per cent of those in the 25-34 age group, and 13 per cent of the under-25s. The under-25s had the strongest desire to return, with 39 per cent of them saying they see themselves living back home in the next three years, compared with just 7 per cent of the over-35s. Overall, 21 per cent see themselves coming back within three years, and a further 42 per cent plan to come back “at some stage in the future”. Sixteen per cent don’t know.
Emigrants polled in Australia and New Zealand were most likely to say they planned 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. One in three living in the US said they did not see themselves returning to live in Ireland in the future.
What do you think will be the main cause of your decision to return?
(Base: all those with a plan to return)
Family was the biggest draw for emigrants who said they planned to move home, with 37 per cent saying this was the main cause of their decision to come back. The further they were living from Ireland, the more likely they were to think this, with 47 per cent of those in Australia and New Zealand citing family as their main motivation, compared with 30 per cent in the UK. One in five (20 per cent) said work would be the main trigger, while 16 per cent said starting or raising a family, 16 per cent said homesickness, and 12 per cent said improvements in the economy.
Has the economy improved enough for you to return home?
More than half (55 per cent ) of emigrants surveyed do not believe the Irish economy has improved enough to offer them the opportunities they need to move back to Ireland. Those who had felt forced to emigrate originally were the most likely to say the economy was still not good enough at 74 per cent, compared with 46 per cent of those who emigrated by choice.
Do you think the Irish Government is doing enough to encourage emigrants to come home?
Seven in ten emigrants surveyed said the Government was not doing enough to encourage people like them to move back to Ireland. The figure was highest in Australia and New Zealand at 77 per cent. Just one in ten said they thought the Government was doing enough, while 3 per cent said the Government should not be involved.
Two-thirds of those surveyed were not aware of the Government’s recent #HometoWork campaign.
What do you think will be the most difficult thing about returning?
(Base: all with a plan to return)
Settling back into the Irish way of life was one of the biggest concerns among those who planned to move home, with 21 per cent citing this as the thing they expected to challenge them most. Finding a suitable job and adjusting to the work environment was cited as the biggest challenge expected by 24 per cent of those polled (highest in UK at 31 per cent), while 11 per cent said the weather, 11 per cent said the lifestyle and quality of life they were leaving behind, 8 per cent said finding accommodation or buying a house, and 6 per cent said lower wages.
Why do you not see yourself returning?
(Base: Those who don’t see themselves returning)
Of those who plan to stay abroad, 39 per cent said they are settled with good friends and are happy, 36 per cent have a better lifestyle, 25 per cent have a better job or career prospects, and 20 per cent are earning more or are paying less tax. Those who felt forced to emigrate are more likely to say they were staying abroad for their careers, while those who chose to leave were more likely to cite a better quality of life and the weather as their motivation.
Is there anything that would change your mind?
(Base: Those who don’t see themselves returning)
Of those who said they didn’t see themselves moving home, 20 per cent said a family issue might change their mind, while 17 per cent could be swayed by a good job offer or an opportunity to start a business. Eight per cent said improvements in the economy, while the same percentage said a tax reduction. Four per cent might be tempted to retire in Ireland. One in three said nothing could convince them to ever move back - this figure was higher among men (at 42 per cent compared to 19 per cent of women), and among the over-35s at 48 per cent.
Having experienced tax systems in other countries, would you consider the Irish tax system fair?
Irish tax rates are a big issue for many, with almost one in five saying it would be “an impediment to returning”, with a further 36 per cent saying it is too high compared to other countries. Fewer than one in three said they thought the tax system was fair in comparison to others. The older cohort are more likely to view the Irish tax system negatively, with seven in ten saying it was too high or an impediment to returning, compared to 39 per cent of those under 25.
Almost half (46 per cent) of those in “rest of world” countries said Irish tax rates were an impediment to them returning to live here, with a further 38 per cent saying they were too high.
Do you have plans to live/work in another country?
More than one in five (22 per cent) people surveyed said they would like to live or work in another country, other than Ireland and the one where they are currently living. This rose to 45 per cent for those under the age of 25 (compared with 16 per cent of over-35s). The more highly educated respondents were also more likely to be open to moving to another place, with 29 per cent of them saying they planned to live and work in another country in the future. Those in mainland Europe were also most likely to have plans to move again at 36 per cent, compared with just 17 per cent of Australia and New Zealand residents. The US topped the list of desirable countries for those who plan to move abroad again at 32 per cent, followed by Australia at 19 per cent.
Are there children in your household?
28 per cent of emigrants surveyed have children in their household.
Would Ireland’s lack of secular schools impact your decision to return home?
(Base: all with children)
Ireland’s lack of secular schools would have an impact on 24 per cent of parents surveyed if they were considering returning to Ireland.
Do you think you should have the right to vote in Ireland?
Irish citizens living abroad don’t currently have the right to vote in Irish elections and referendums, but many of them would like this to change, according to the poll. 62 per cent of respondents think they should be able to vote for the President, 63 per cent in general elections, 61 per cent in referendums and 53 per cent in Seanad elections. The remainder of those polled were fairly evenly split between those who had no opinion on the issue, or who didn’t think they should have a right to vote.
Young people were more likely to have strong views on the issue, with 76 per cent of people under 25 saying they were in favour of a vote for the President, in general elections and in referendums, compared with just 58 per cent of over-35s who wanted a vote in general elections, or 60 per cent in referendums.
Of those who were in favour of voting rights, approximately six in 10 believed they should have a say indefinitely after leaving Ireland, while about one in three said it should be limited to a certain number of years.