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For 20-something Irish of earlier generations, seeking a better life abroad was normal. Ireland experienced particularly high levels of emigration in the 1950s and 1980s, when unemployment rates at home were high and the United Kingdom and United States offered more opportunities.
But Ireland became a net-immigration country in 1996 as its economy expanded and flourished. Irish abroad returned, and immigrants and asylum seekers from Europe and farther afield began settling, a trend that exploded in 2004 when Ireland, along with the United Kingdom and Sweden, immediately opened its doors to labor migration from the new European Union (EU) Member States in Central and Eastern Europe.
Issue No. 7 of Top Ten of 2010
Foreigners' share of the population rose from 5.8 percent in 2002 to 10.1 percent in 2006, according to Irish census data; 2.9 percent of foreigners in 2006 were from new Member States. Between 2005 and 2008, an average of 54 percent of the non-Irish immigration flow was made up of nationals of the 10 EU states that acceded in 2004.
As Ireland's economy sank in the last quarter of 2008, emigration numbers crept up. In September 2009, the trend became official: Ireland was once again a net-emigration country. Indeed, Ireland had the highest net-emigration rate in the European Union in 2009, Eurostat reported in July.
Although non-Irish nationals, particularly those from Eastern Europe, led the exodus, Irish nationals now make up a sizeable proportion of those leaving. Between April 2009 and April 2010, net emigration hit 34,500, the highest point since 1989, according to Ireland's Central Statistics Office. Of that group, 42 percent were Irish nationals.
Now that Ireland has accepted an 85 billion-euro (US$115 billion) bailout and the government is set to make severe budget cuts, all signs point to even higher emigration.
Greece, another traditional emigration country turned immigration country, appears poised to become a net exporter of people as well given its severe fiscal problems, weak economic outlook, and austerity measures. A number of media reports have focused on young, educated Greeks seeking work abroad.
Question: Considering the recession's impact on Spain and Portugal, whose economies remain shaky, will Spain and Portugal also become emigration countries?