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Column: What do you really know about emigrating?

Emigration from Ireland is once again a reality for many young people and their families – but how much do young people facing the prospect really know about the country they are emigrating to before they leave Ireland, asks Marie-Claire McAleer.

Marie-Claire McAleer

OVER THE PAST two years over a quarter of our population has been affected by the emigration of a close family member, and half of Ireland’s 18–24 years olds now say they would consider emigrating themselves (NYCI Poll conducted by Red C, October 2012). The debate about whether or not it is forced or chosen has to a large extent dominated the headlines. Once these young people leave Ireland, does anyone in the political system care what becomes of them or indeed what supports are in place to ease their transition from Ireland to the country they are emigrating to?

The National Youth Council of Ireland conducted qualitative research exploring the experience and impact of emigration on young people who have emigrated from Ireland in last two years. The study reveals emigration continues to be an emotive subject and there are both positive and negative sides to the emigration story.

The study also examines the social and economic policy implications of sustained emigration. It highlights important issues for Government to consider to support Ireland and its emigrating youth.

Emigration costs money

The reality is that for the many young people, who can afford to emigrate, emigration whether voluntary or involuntary costs money. In fact, as many young emigrants found in their recent experience of emigration to the UK or to Canada, unless you have parental support, a young person will struggle to survive without a substantial financial reserve to sustain them until they secure employment in their new country.

There are many challenges facing the current wave of young emigrants leaving Ireland at present. One of the most significant of these is a lack of adequate financial resources. In both the UK and in Canada, lack of financial resources was cited by emigrants as one of the most difficult challenges. Many young people stated that in relation to money, an emigrant had to either have enough money to support themselves for a month or two or rely on parental support until they received their first pay cheque.

Job seeking was also cited as challenging. Many young Irish emigrants confirmed that you can often face a wait of six to eight weeks before securing employment. In relation to Canada, most young professionals emigrate in the hope of walking into a dream job in their chosen profession. The reality is often quite different.

Many arrive to discover that their Irish qualifications in professions such as Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Law and Engineering are not accredited and they are required to undertake further study before they can practice. Such examinations are costly particularly for a new young emigrant with limited means. Many emigrants take whatever employment they can get to cover their costs while they complete the studies required to have their qualifications recognised in Canada

How can we support young emigrants?

The advice given by many young emigrants interviewed as part of the study is to be prepared and informed before you leave. Preparation is the key to success and anyone considering emigration as an option should ensure they are properly informed about all aspects of life in the country they are planning to emigrate to.

In 2012, the Irish Government invested €11.6m under the Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) to provide advice and support to Irish people abroad, particularly those that help migrants access their rights and entitlements in their host countries.

One such initiative that is supported by the ESP is the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre (I/CAN). I/CAN provides young Irish emigrants with a point of contact where they can go for advice on issues such as finding work, accommodation, accessing services, or dealing with the immigration system.

The centre’s seed funding came from the Embassy of Ireland in Ottawa, through the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Emigrant Support Programme, which provided a grant of $50,000. Local Irish community organisations also contributed financial support. The existence of a centralised one stop shop to support emigrants (in the form of I/CAN) was found by emigrants in Canada to be of tremendous value. Many felt that such a resource would have benefited them greatly had it been available in Ireland prior to their departure.

Providing help before people leave

It is vital to build on existing supports and provide assistance to prospective young emigrants before they leave Ireland. Such support would help those considering emigration as an option, to be informed, prepared and aware of any potential problems they may encounter in their host country in advance of their departure from Ireland.

 

We need to talk about the realities of emigration and not pretend that it does not exist. Regardless of whether young people are emigrating by choice or necessity is largely irrelevant. We need to acknowledge that it is a daily reality for many young people and one we must face up to. We need political direction and a new policy response to emigration which meets the needs of young people currently facing the prospect of emigration.

It is important that emigrants considering emigration are aware of what to expect before leaving Ireland and are informed and prepared. This information and discussion is missing from the current discourse. How we support these young people before they emigrate is extremely important.

Marie-Claire McAleer is Senior Research and Policy Officer at the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) and author of the recent NYCI report on youth emigration ‘Time to Go?’

 

The National Youth Council of Ireland is the representative body for national voluntary youth work organisations in Ireland. It uses its collective experience to act on issues that impact on young people.

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About the author:

Marie-Claire McAleer

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