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The queue at the Working Abroad Expo at Dublin's RDS on Saturday Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Column ‘Everywhere it’s hollowed-out people’ – a day at the emigration fair

Mum-of-one Ann Cronin went to Sunday’s event hopeful for opportunities abroad – but found the reality very different.

A GESTAPO OFFICER visiting the artist’s studio picked up a postcard of Guernica and asked ‘Is this your work?’ No, replied Picasso, it’s your work, take it, a souvenir.

I thought of that pulling into the Working abroad expo in the RDS on Sunday morning. A 6am departure had landed me there just shy of nine, and the queue three and four people wide already snaked onto Ballsbridge road. I wondered if any of the Fianna Fáil delegates seeing it the day before thought of that Picasso moment.

Parking, I surveyed the county number plates, nothing newer than 06 and the ubiquitous white vans dotted throughout – it was like December 8 but this time the shopping was for jobs. I’d left home at six willing and excited, it was all going to be good; the New World calls and this was a key.

I chatted in the queue with Shane, a tiler from Cabra who has a two-year-old called Chloe. I gleaned this from the name being tattooed on the back of his neck. Shane says he wants to work ‘cause he’s wreckin the missus’ head at home’.  He’s been looking for work for two years; his mate Darren, a plasterer, is looking at moving to Australia. They walked here today to save bus fare, having to cut corners to afford the entry fee.

Once inside the crowd moves like molasses between stands. My optimism starts to ebb as I swim through a sea of desperate eyes counteracted by the slick shine of the sales crews and visa vultures. First up a private hospital offering to sort out your medical. I float past five people sitting in the VHI stand, they’re still there, unhindered two hours later. Apparently health insurance is the last thing on the minds of the gathered.

‘What happens when its too cold to work? Well, you don’t get paid’

The crowd is predominantly male, about 80 per cent, and an age spread between 25 and 55 for the most part. Everywhere I turn it’s the same, hollowed out people looking for something to fill the void. I know, I’m one of them. We pass and nod and try to chew the fat queuing for various stands: How long… how far away… how soon. Soon is never enough, you can see the faces drop as the visa cheerleader mentions six to 12-month waits for Canadian visas, but not to worry desperate jobhunters – for as little as €2000 he can help you get your visa. After his slick speech there’s a rush of hands reaching for his card and contact details.

In the lecture next door an ex-meat processor is describing how a Thai worker he had did not see his child for three years due to the remoteness of his job and the twelve days holiday a year he gets. I look at the men in the room, ranging from early twenties to fifties as he asks ‘Are you sure you can do that?’  Low skilled means no visas for family. A hand goes up: “You said it reaches minus 30 there, what happens when its too cold to work?’ Well, you don’t get paid, replies the guy in a suit with a hockey jersey thrown over it, in an effort to look … human.

A man so tanned I think he has painted cupernol on himself waves me over to a come to the Australia stand, he points out that him and the missus there are from Dublin but get people sorted in Australia. From what I can see he’s just selling me the information that I can get for free on the Australian government sites, his wife is busy selling something to a young couple beside me. I am Irish, so along with being unable to complain about food I am unable to break free from the tanned man without taking four different leaflets and a pen. I have a lot of pens, they are a poor substitute for the €50 I spent on petrol but I do have a writing pad from Sasquatch country too.

The work on offer is predominantly construction and trade, building, engineering, mechanics, the healthcare sections want doctors and nurses… EVERYWHERE wants doctors and nurses. I didn’t drive all the way here for this, but no, stand after stand I get the same. At one stand I can purchase a diploma in business management to enable me to enough points to get an Australian visa. I explain I have a university degree and he taps me heartily on the back and says ‘Awwww it’s just for people who have the experience but not the qualification. You’re grand so!’

‘I get flashes of every time I cried myself to sleep’

I’m starting to panic, at least this is how I imagine a panic attack plays out. I have to tell myself to breathe and calm down. I get flashes of every negative thing I have ever said to myself during this job hunting misery; every time I cried myself to sleep or wished I’d never wake up again because living idle is not living. I am now talking to myself, gripping my folder full of CV’s that will be bringing me nowhere today, saying it’s OK, it’s OK. I edge towards the exit. I spy an entrance pass on the floor, perhaps not all is lost, I snatch it and make my way back along the queue I stood in full of hope two hours earlier. I look for familiarity, or a worthy recipient, but there is hope here, hope before the truth.

I spy a couple. Mum is carrying a boy of about four, the six-year-old girl looks longingly at Dad to carry her too. I give them the tickets, tell them to say the kids got ill and they had to leave, hoping they get in. Actually no, I’m hoping they get out.

How’s this for some entrepreneurial ideas Mr Kenny: Set up an emigration visa advisory service for people rather than have them getting ripped off by vultures. Make sure tradesmen can get their equivalent qualifications for abroad here and make that money and hose jobs out of that bloated monster called Fás, or whatever you’ve decided to call it this week. I’ll bloody do it. Its about time you stopped treating emigration as a hushed shame, we have to, we want to, let us have the means and the money can stay here and let’s treat these people like human beings, for all I saw were sacrificial lambs today.

Ann Cronin is a psychology graduate from UL who achieved first class honours and the highest GPA in her class in 2011. She worked throughout her degree and is still unable to find full time employment in Ireland. She hopes to move to Canada and work in learning and development as a training specialist. Her fingers are crossed.

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