Some recent emigrants suffering isolation and hardship

Study finds lack of basic knowledge about issues like the cost of living

Recent Irish emigrants are younger, more professional and more networked than any previous generation but many are still experiencing mental health problems, financial deprivation and isolation abroad, a new study has shown.

The findings are part of a major review of the changing needs of Irish communities overseas, and Government funding provided to groups working with them. It has found that a lack of knowledge on basics such as the cost of living and how to find a job in another country is leading some unprepared emigrants into hardship.

More than 200,000 Irish people have left the country since the recession hit in 2008. The review, commissioned under the Emigrant Support Programme funding initiative run by the Department of Foreign Affairs, aimed to discover the changing needs of the “next generation of the Irish diaspora” and examine how they could best be supported.

Vulnerable groups


In addition to the "primary needs" of long-standing members of Irish communities overseas, especially elderly Irish and Travellers in Britain and the undocumented in the US, the Clinton Institute in University College Dublin identified young Irish families in west Canada and Western Australia as being in particular need of support.

In these newly popular destinations for Irish migrants, where their skills are in high demand, there are few existing support structures to help them network and socialise, the study found.

Mental health emerged as a major issue, especially among young emigrants in Australia, with loneliness, isolation and a lack of networked support leading to depression and other problems for some.

“The issue of mental health is often linked with a sense of dislocation from a cultural environment or community, either because someone is self-isolated after moving to a new place or because the diaspora community has diminished in that place,” said Clinton Institute director Liam Kennedy.

“Individual stories highlighted the sense of isolation that many people feel, which makes you realise that some people are really struggling.”

Emigrants need to be better prepared for the realities of life abroad to help prevent them developing these vulnerabilities when they leave, the report recommends.

"We heard again and again from organisations in every destination that people were arriving over woefully unprepared for the realities of life in that country," Mr Kennedy said.

“In Canada it came across particularly strongly. We have more and more Irish people going to Canada, but there is a limited knowledge about what is needed to get on and settle there.”

Of the five main destinations for Irish emigrants, all but the UK have visa restrictions based on age, employability and qualifications. This, combined with the cost of flights and visas, means the prospects for moving abroad for unskilled and underfunded people are narrowing, the review found.


The UK therefore receives a higher proportion of “vulnerable” emigrants, often motivated to move not just by employment prospects but because of issues relating to violence, drugs and other domestic problems.

“Vulnerabilities among emigrants don’t necessarily start abroad but at home,” said Mr Kennedy.

The researchers found that while the role of long-standing supports for the Irish abroad like the church or the Irish pub is diminishing, new social networks were emerging which are allowing emigrants to “self help”, especially online.

This was especially apparent in Australia and Canada, where Facebook groups have been set up by emigrants themselves to ask questions and share advice on everything from accommodation and jobs to where to buy Irish tea and crisps.


The Government’s Emigrant Support Programme (ESP), which provides funding for welfare, cultural and business projects run by groups working with the Irish abroad, could play a role in facilitating or providing a hub for these “new modes of diaspora communication”, the report said.

The research also points to the importance for the programme of balancing financial support for welfare projects with cultural initiatives, which “have a therapeutic impact” and motivate social interaction among emigrants from a variety of backgrounds and age groups.

There is also potential for more engagement with Irish business and education networks which could foster greater economic ties between Ireland and the diaspora. These networks play an important role in reaching out to new arrivals who might need assistance looking for work.

The ESP is identified as a “key point of engagement” between Ireland and the diaspora, and recommends it be “resourced appropriately and further developed”.

The programme, which was allocated €11.5 million by the Government this year, not only provides financial support for groups working with vulnerable Irish people abroad, but also has the potential to bridge “differences and disconnects within diaspora communities and between Ireland and its diaspora”.

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine