Modern wild geese weigh up pros and cons of staying abroad
Will the good news encourage emigrants to return? Not in the immediate future, it would appear
Irish emigrants, both recent and those who have lived abroad for decades, have been keeping a close eye on the bailout story through Irish media online as it unfolded. Above is Eamon O’Hara at home near Cahors, southwest France with dog Filou.
By the time the bailout was agreed in November 2010, tens of thousands of people had already left Ireland as a result of the recession in search of better work opportunities abroad.
The numbers of Irish emigrating, as well as non-nationals who had made Ireland home in the boom, had been rising steadily in the years leading up to it, from late 2007 onwards. Although the bailout itself wasn’t necessarily an impetus to leave for the majority of emigrants, it did mark a turning point of sorts for some.
For those prolonging their departure in the hope of a quick economic recovery which could allow them to stay, the bailout was the final nail in their emigrant ship.
With the arrival of the EU-IMF to Ireland, austerity measures were guaranteed to intensify, cuts to welfare deepen, and the likelihood of employment opportunities improving waned. In the 12 months to April 2011, Ireland saw the biggest single-year increase in the number of Irish people leaving the country, from 28,900 to 42,000.
The figure has continued to rise since, to 50,900 in the 12 months to April this year.
For many of those watching the economic crisis unfold from abroad, the bailout was also a significant event.
Emigrants who spoke to The Irish Times for this article, whether they had left Ireland by choice or not, have spoken of their anger, resentment, frustration and sadness on hearing the news from afar.
The Irish bailout has been widely reported in the international media over the past three years, but Irish emigrants, both recent and those who have lived abroad for decades, have been keeping a close eye on the story through Irish media online as it unfolded.
A survey of more than 1,500 recent emigrants carried out by University College Cork found earlier this year that seven in 10 regularly read an Irish newspaper online and one in three listen to Irish radio. Many of those interviewed by the researchers expressed “anger at those deemed at fault for Ireland’s economic collapse”, while eight in 10 disagreed that the Government is “doing its best to tackle the causes of emigration”.
The numbers of Irish people returning to live here from abroad have dropped considerably since the bailout, from 19,600 in the year to April 2011, to 15,700 two years later. This may indicate a perception among emigrants that once the bailout was agreed, the recession would be longer lasting and they would be better off staying abroad.
This is borne out in the visa figures for countries such as Australia and Canada, where Irish people are seeking longer-term residency options. The numbers of Irish working holiday-makers successfully applying to stay on for a second year has increased dramatically in both countries over the past three years, as have the numbers obtaining employer sponsorship, permanent residency and even citizenship.
As the austerity measures arising under the conditions of the bailout intensified, the age profile of the typical emigrant has risen significantly.
Young and single
Those who left in the early years of the downturn were more likely to be young and single, and although the overall emigration figure has risen by over 10 per cent in the past three years, the number of emigrants (of all nationalities) aged 15 to 24 has remained fairly static at around 35,000.
The numbers leaving in the 25 to 44 age group, who are more likely to have a mortgage and children, has increased dramatically however, from 31,300 in the 12 months to April 2011 to 41,000 this year.
The number of children emigrating under the age of 14 is also on the up, rising by 1,900 in the last year alone to 6,800. These combined figures would indicate that a lot more families, who may have been slower than young single people to pack up and leave when the recession first hit, are seeing no alternative now but to move abroad.
As the date for the bailout exit approaches, the Government is trumpeting the falling unemployment figures, at 12.8 per cent at the end of September, as a sign that the country is on the path to economic recovery. While many others will credit emigration as the primary cause of the fall, there is no denying that the number of people in jobs is on the rise with an increase in employment of 58,000 in the year to the end of September.
But will the good news encourage emigrants to return? Not in the immediate future, it would appear. Four in 10 of those surveyed by UCC said they would like to move back to Ireland in the next three years, but just 22 per cent think it is likely to happen, primarily because of economic factors. Almost one in six is definite they don’t want to move back in the near future, while a similar number again aren’t too bothered either way. One in four is undecided about where they want to be in three years’ time.
Emigrants will have to weigh up the pros and cons of staying abroad versus returning home, and if employment opportunities and standard of living remains better for them elsewhere, many will be wondering why would they come back?