Ireland has always been an appealing expat destination for a number of reasons, including its steady economic growth and excellent quality of life. It earned itself the honor of being among the wealthiest European countries and was popularly referred to as the ‘Celtic Tiger’.But Ireland, like many other countries, was impacted by the global recession, resulting in a fall in the Irish property market. The Euro Crisis made it difficult for the country to recover from its economic collapse. Today, the Irish economy is regaining its growth rates, although the taxation and personal debt levels are still something with which residents continue to struggle. The good news is that several international companies that set up offices in Ireland decided to stay and weather the economic storm. They also attracted a host of expats from countries like the UK and the US. But the resulting competitive employment scene, along with other reasons, led to many Irish nationals seeking better paying jobs and higher standards of living in other countries of the world.
There are many reasons why Irish expats make the decision to move to a different country. Over the years, these motivations have been changing. For instance, according to a recent survey, for those who left Ireland between 2008 and 2012, employment and the opportunity to secure a better job were the main reasons for emigrating. This was true for nearly half of the participants.
However, this number dropped considerably for those who relocated in the last three years. For these Irish nationals, the desire to experience a change seemed to be the prime motivation. Gender also played in a role in determining why people emigrated. Women, the survey indicated, were more likely to move overseas to be with a spouse or partner, while the driving force for men turned out to be work-related reasons, although 39 percent of women also cited work as their main reason for moving abroad.
The Generation Emigration Survey
This survey was the result of interviews held with Irish citizens who had moved abroad since 2008. Interviews were conducted over the phone in the months of May and June. Gaining accurate samples of the target population was difficult since there are no reliable measures available, other than estimates of the numbers of Irish nationals that emigrate every year. Demographic details and destination countries were hard to come by. For these reasons, the survey was conducted using a purposive sampling method, also known as judgmental or subjective sampling. The participants were from existing networks of personal contacts, and measures were adopted to prevent clustering effects.
When asked about their choice of destination, the UK was the most popular location for those who relocated for work purposes, followed by Europe and Canada. Those who moved to the mainland European destinations did so to fulfill their desire for a better quality of life, or to accompany a partner or spouse. For unemployed expats seeking job opportunities, the UK again was the most popular destination, followed by the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, mainland Europe, and other countries.
Dubai in the UAE too has an increasing Irish expat population due to the lucrative job opportunities and high quality of life it offers. Since there is no income tax, corporate tax or VAT, the process of filing accounts for business owners does not exist. Expats get to keep all of their salaries and businesses get to keep their profits. Many companies that hire expats in Dubai also provide accommodation and healthcare. Some of the older expats who came to Dubai to recover from financial crashes were able to rebuild their wealth in a short period of time.
Commonly encountered challenges
The Generation Emigration Survey indicated that the greatest challenge faced by Irish expats was being away from loved ones. 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men cited this as their biggest challenge. This was also true for 34 percent of recent expats, and 28 percent of those who had moved abroad longer than three years ago. The distance from the homeland impacted the responses, with 42 percent of expats in Australia citing distance from family as their greatest challenge, compared to just 25 percent of those in the UK.
Another difficulty faced by Irish expats living and working in the UK was finding accommodation, while for those in Canada, it was finding a job. For Irish expats in mainland Europe, language proved to be a particular challenge; and for those in the US, visa and migration matters were their biggest issues.
The age factor
The survey, which was conducted for the Irish Times, found that younger Irish expats living abroad were more likely to cite voluntary emigration and the intention to stay for shorter durations of time, compared to those over 35 years of age who were more likely to settle down overseas. Of the 350 Irish nationals interviewed, 41 percent of those above the age of 35 said they felt ‘forced’ to leave. Also, of those that were unemployed, seven in ten of the older expats indicated that they would have stayed back in Ireland if they had managed to secure permanent employment. This is in contrast to most of the younger expats, who said they would have moved abroad in any case.
The majority of younger expats (under 25 years) were more likely to relocate alone or along with friends, while expats over 35 were likely to move abroad with a spouse or partner. Since most of the older group had children under the age of 12, they were likelier to emigrate to find a job or to switch to a better job. As for the under 25s, most of them did not have children, and relocated because they wanted to experience a change. The common factor between the two groups was how they perceived the situation in their home country. Both groups felt that the economy had witnessed no positive change, and hence adequate job opportunities to which they could return home were still not available. Older expats expressed more pessimism than the younger ones in this matter.
When it came to returning to the homeland, 39 percent of the younger expats felt they might return in the course of the next three years, compared to 29 percent of older expats who felt they might not return at all, as more than half of this group felt they were settled and happy enough in their current destination. The family theme continues with the older expats, 27 percent of which married since emigrating, and 37 percent of which had bought a home. None of the under 25s had taken either step.
Among the expats who cited the possibility of returning home, the younger ones indicated settling down or homesickness as their reasons. For the older expats, it was family matters and job opportunities. A very small percentage of participants felt that there would be an improvement in their quality of life once they return; the older expats felt more strongly that life overseas was a better quality life.
What older expats want
Older expats also include those that choose to retire overseas. Without the compulsions of employment and family responsibilities, retirees are more likely to embrace the more adventurous parts of moving abroad, and may find it easier to participate in the local community as compared to younger expats. In another poll, nearly half of the respondents said that they were well-settled in their new destination within less than six months, while the rest were able to feel this way in just a year. Only a third of expats aged 18 to 35 felt at home so quickly.
This phenomenon can be attributed to what older expats really want – to make new friends within the local community. Retired expats want to explore life abroad, while younger ones tend to love more expat-centric lifestyles. Most older expats, rather than mixing around with other expats, join local activities and events. They are also enthusiastic about trying out the local cuisine, an activity that often puts them in touch with the locals.
Research shows that expat retirees tend to have more active social lives in their new destination, as compared to when they were in their home countries. Many older expats living in retirement hotspots like Spain, Mexico and France experience a better quality life that is a definite improvement from when they were living in their home countries. While earlier, retired expats may have sought the comfort and familiarity of settling into an expat community in a new location, today the trend seems to be about change and new experiences. Some of the ways in which potential expat retirees can experience a richer life abroad include making an effort to understand the local culture and etiquette, using the local language and participating in local community activities.
Of the working population of Irish expats, older expats reported being happier at work, with majority of them indicating that their current job was better than the one they had in Ireland. The highest percentage of happy Irish expat employees were in the US.
What younger expats want
Younger expats may decide to relocate overseas because of the increasingly competitive way of life in their homeland. They may desire to lead a slower paced life and to establish a better work-life balance. Hence they may move to countries that provide benefits to the working population such as more vacation and sick days. The current job market in their home country may also be a reason to live and work abroad. Ireland serves as the European hub for several international companies such as Vodafone, Amazon, Intel and Microsoft. While this is good news for qualified and experienced Irish nationals, younger individuals may find it difficult to get their foot in the door when it comes to the employment market. International companies like the ones mentioned may also be hiring a significant percent of expats from other countries, with fewer positions available for locals.
Older expat professionals have the advantage of experience over the younger ones. They may also be more flexible since they tend to have more savings, a retirement income, can afford to buy a home and have already fulfilled their family obligations such as raising children. Younger expats may be more adventurous and hence will find it easier to accept expat assignments abroad; they may need to face the challenges of family-related requirements. The global job market may prefer to hire younger expats as they fit the role of being internationally minded and enthusiastic. But older expats also have to their advantage years of knowledge and confidence, which is an asset to any company.
How Brexit may impact Irish expats
The UK has always been a popular destination for Irish expats. This trend has been ongoing since the 1920s, especially during the economic crises of the 1950s and 1980s, when many moved to the UK for employment. The global job market has opened up and today many Irish emigrants are also moving to countries like the US and Canada. But the UK still remains a top destination and therefore Brexit, or the British exit from the European Union, can affect the many Irish expats living within its shores.
Currently Irish nationals living in the UK enjoy the status of legal resident. This qualifies them for certain advantages such as the right to receive social welfare benefits and to vote in elections and referendums. Once the Brexit comes into effect after a two-year negotiation period, these rights may be subject to restrictions. The matter of study and work visas may also come into question, as up until Brexit Irish nationals had the same education and employment rights as citizens of the UK. Irish students may find that they have to pay higher fees. The Common Travel Area agreement allowed for the freedom of movement between the north and south of Ireland. Brexit may mean that border controls may be put back in place.