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The Re-Emergence of Emigration from Ireland: New Trends in An Old Story

Reports
November 2015

The Re-Emergence of Emigration from Ireland: New Trends in An Old Story

No country in Europe has been as affected by emigration over the past two centuries as Ireland. Beginning with the exodus of 1.25 million people during the Great Irish Famine, large-scale emigration became a fact of life—only for the trend to reverse in the 1990s as the "Celtic Tiger" economy lured newcomers. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, however, Ireland reverted to its emigration history. The number of people leaving Ireland more than tripled between 2008 and 2012—placing emigration in the public and political spotlight once again.

Unlike earlier outflows, a significant share of leaving today are immigrants returning home or migrating elsewhere. And, in another point of contrast, most of the Irish who are emigrating are well educated, with an over-representation of university graduates.

This report analyzes the impact of emigration on Irish society. It uses original data from the EMIGRE project to disaggregate outflows of Irish nationals from those of immigrants, and to shed light on who is emigrating, where they are going, and what is motivating their departure—information that was previously inaccessible using data from the Irish Central Statistics Office alone. The report then analyzes the tools policymakers may use to encourage the return of some of their talented diaspora members—and to engage others while they are still abroad in order to mitigate the effects of “brain drain.”

The question is: how can the state ensure that many emigrants will return to Ireland? A global diaspora is both a potential resource and an important obligation. If Ireland is to utilize the skills of Irish abroad, it needs to provide something in return. One way is to allow the Irish abroad to have a voice in domestic political and social debates through certain voting entitlements, which would nurture their connection with (and voice in) their country of origin. But in order to benefit from its citizens abroad, the Irish government must first develop a more accurate understanding of who these people are and what motivates them. Establishing a census of Irish emigrants—capturing the numbers, destinations, and skills of those abroad—could be a first step to building more durable links between Ireland and its overseas citizens.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

Historical Overview and Demographic Trends

II. Current Emigration Flows: Who Is Leaving and Where Are They Going?

A. Profile of Emigrants

B. Primary Destinations of Emigrants

C. Motivations for Emigration

III. How Emigration Is Perceived

Evidence of the Positive and Negative Consequences of Emigration

IV. Policy Responses to Emigration

A. Diaspora Engagement

B. Return Policies

C. Voting and Diaspora Rights

D. Reintegration Policies

V. Conclusions