The Desirability of Emigration

In today’s Irish Times, as part of their ongoing Generation Emigration section, they noted that despite many improvements in Ireland’s economy “emigration is still a desirable option among Irish people, with 31,800 moving abroad in the period”. The article goes on to point out that just one in 10 emigrants was unemployed before leaving. As such, it is suggested that “they may be departing for the experience of living abroad, or because they are unhappy with their current job situation in Ireland.” But what does all this really mean?

First I want to address the fact that only one in ten people who emigrated in the period were unemployed. Emigration isn’t cheap today and it wasn’t in the past either. While in the past people boarded steamers in a variety of classes, the cost was not cheap and while we may have lots of cheap flights to lots of destinations, until you try to put your life into a 20kg bag and move to another country, you won’t realise how hard it is to do and how costly it can be. In addition to the cost of getting there, setting up in a new country is expensive. If you are going to go without work already secured, you need to have some savings behind you. Even if you go with a job contract in your back pocket, you’ll have to find an apartment to rent, take time out from your job to register with the local police, probably buy a local phone, whether pay as you go or bill. None of this stuff is cheap. It’s also terrifying, interacting with a new culture, possibly a new language, knowing few if any people, and trying to navigate the culture shock.

Emigrating is not going on an extended J1 visa. It’s real life. And it can be absolutely dread inducing. Absolutely yes, the experience gained living abroad is invaluable and the more people who get to do it,the better. You have to learn to embrace  your new situation but that takes time. It can be exhausting putting yourself out there and meeting new people, people you can’t be sure if they’ll be passing acquaintances or lifelong friends. Being an emigrant – even an educated, adaptable and positive one – can be hard.

For many going away, coming home isn’t the end goal, may not in fact be desirable. It’s easier now to come home than it used to be, but as the Generation Emigration series has shown in many of the individual stories that have been told, often those who stay away for a few years find it harder and harder to envision actually coming back. Because then you are dealing with reverse culture shock.

Now, to turn to dissatisfaction with a person’s job situation in Ireland. I know plenty of people with good, fulfilling jobs in Ireland. But I know plenty of people whose jobs don’t even pay well, nevermind offer any kind of satisfaction. And even if they do pay okay, how are they meant to keep up with the kind of rent increases we are seeing, where in Cork it has risen by 18%. Dublin , as we all know, is a nightmare. This is the net effect of too much concentration of new business only in those cities. Many other places are lagging far behind in terms of recovery. We can’t and shouldn’t all have to live in Cork or Dublin.

No one is likely to forget the cynical appropriation last Christmas by the then-Government in Ireland of the #hometovote hashtag related to the Marriage Equality referendum. They turned in to #hometowork but as we know, there aren’t jobs for the hundreds and thousands to come home to. The return of that many en masse would constitute a crisis for the country. The new Minister for the Diaspora admitted himself that some qualified graduates were more equal than others, after all. In an article back in June, the Irish Times noted:

Identifying opportunities in the science and engineering sectors, Mr McHugh said that while Ireland required people with these skills, it would be wrong to suggest there were jobs for all emigrants. That situation may change as the economy recovers and services are developed, but it is likely to be a slow process.

To give some credit to today’s Irish Times article they do quote Marie-Claire McAleer who works as head researcher for the National Youth Council of Ireland. McAleer says  that “young people would continue to leave in high numbers if issues such as high living costs and insecure working conditions are not addressed.”

Most people I know can’t afford the deposit on a house to get  a mortgage, and things like car insurance is still insanely overpriced for the young in Ireland. We are, in almost all the markers of progress through adult life, priced out. Wages in Ireland do not reflect the cost of living there. That’s the simple truth. So imagine being in your 20s, educated, qualified and with some work experience behind you and being offered a more secure better paying job elsewhere. Why wouldn’t you go?



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