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FactCheck: Is Varadkar right to say immigrants are more likely to be working than Irish people?

The Taoiseach made the claim in the Dáil recently. But is it actually the case?


RECENTLY IN THE Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched a defence of the government when challenged by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald on its record on immigration.

He said that immigrants are “more likely to be working than the average Irish person and paying tax”.

Does that claim stand up to scrutiny? Let’s have a look.

The Claim

On Tuesday 2 October, Varadkar was facing questions on his meetings and engagements in the Dáil chamber, and was pushed by Mary Lou McDonald on whether or not he challenged his Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz on the issue of immigration at a recent EU summit.

McDonald said that Ireland’s “management of migration” has been “fairly disastrous”.

In response, the Taoiseach spoke widely about Ireland’s record on immigration.

He said: “I appreciate that there are plenty of issues and shortcomings, of which direct provision may be one, but one in six people in Ireland was not born here, which is very high relative to that in other countries. It is higher than the figure in Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

We have done much better on integration than those countries, largely because immigration has been diverse, rather than migrants coming mainly from one country. They have come here from other parts of Europe and all over the world. In addition, they are very well-integrated into the labour market and, in fact, more likely to be working than the average Irish person and paying tax.

The evidence asked the Department of An Taoiseach for evidence to support Varadkar’s claim made here.

A spokesperson from the government responded: “The Taoiseach’s remarks were designed specifically to emphasise the significant contribution that immigrants make to Irish society, in the same way that Irish emigrants have made a significant contribution to countries around the world.

The Taoiseach was quoting from the 2016 CSO Census which confirmed that nine of the ten principal non-Irish nationalities living in Ireland have a higher rate of labour force participation at 73.9% than the state level of 61%. EU nationals had the highest participation rate at 76.8%.

We asked the CSO for some relevant statistics, and they pointed us to a few different datasets, including that from Census 2016.

It is clear from that data that the non-nationals are more likely to be at work, if you go by certain definitions. EU migrants, who would have predominantly come to Ireland to work, are more likely again to be at work. 

In a section with the subheading “Non-Irish participation remains strong”, the CSO noted: “Non-Irish nationals have traditionally had a higher labour force participation rate than their Irish counterparts.”

In 2016, participation in the labour force – defined as all persons at work, looking for their first job or unemployed – among foreign nationals was 73.9%.

For Irish nationals, this was just 59.5%.

The labour force figures, however, do not include students, homemakers, retired persons and those unable to work. 

While the unemployment rate for both non-Irish and Irish males was at 13.8% in 2016, this rate among non-Irish women was 17.2% and 11.1% for Irish women. 

irish labour participation CSO CSO

Looking at more recent figures outside the Census also points to further evidence to back up the Taoiseach’s claim.

According to the most recent Labour Force Survey, a greater proportion of non-Irish nationals over the age of 15 are in employment than Irish nationals.

cso census labour CSO CSO

Here, we can see that out of a non-national population of 526,800 people, approximately 365,800 are in work. This is compared to 1.8 million Irish nationals in employment from a possible of 3.32 million over the age of 15.

In statistical terms, this translates to just under 70% of foreign nationals at work, with around 57% of Irish people at work.

From this, we can see that a foreign national over the age of 15 in Ireland is more likely than an Irish national to be at work according to labour force figures.


From figures compiled by the CSO in Census 2016 and the most recent Labour Force Survey, it is more likely for a non-national to be working than an Irish person.

The Census is the most comprehensive statistical resource available in this area and, while it was compiled in 2016, aspects of that data is reflected in the most recent Labour Force survey from earlier this year.

Over seven in ten foreign nationals in the labour force are at work, and under six in ten Irish nationals are.

The Taoiseach said: “In addition, [immigrants] are very well-integrated into the labour market and, in fact, more likely to be working than the average Irish person and paying tax.”

With this in mind, we rate this claim TRUE.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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