By Noreen Bowden | May 10, 2011
The experiences of today’s young emigrants to Australia should be researched in order to understand their lives compared to the lives of earlier emigrants and those who remain in Ireland, suggests an Irish economist writing in an Australian website.
Colm Harmon, Professor of Economics at Australian National University and also at University College Dublin, notes the scale of the accelerating Irish migration to Australia:
The Irish are now the third largest migrant group in absolute terms for employer sponsored (457) visas, and proportional to our population by a large way the biggest migrant group in this category.
Ireland is sending about one-third the total numbers the UK is sending – with 20 times the population! More Irish are arriving on 457s then the total from the entire rest of the European continent.
The increase in this number year on year is about one-third more than the increase of UK or other Europeans, so the share is growing.
Professor Harmon asserts – correctly, I believe – that the future for most of these emigrants will be in their adopted country, due to the Ireland’s bleak economic prospects. He then makes two assertions I’d disagree with:
- That these emigrants “won’t have a role” in Ireland’s economic recovery.
- That “this may be the first Irish migrant cohort to Australia who won’t be looking over their shoulders at the old country, won’t have the sense of attachment that previous generations held.”
On the first point, I suspect we’ll be asking our emigrants for much in the future. One could say, for example, that even by taking themselves out of the dole queues that these young people have already started doing their bit for Ireland’s economic recovery. In the future, they’ll be contributing through a variety of means, as emigrants always have. I’ve heard of emigrants sending money home to support younger brothers and sisters, to name just the most direct (and traditional) channel of economic support. But in the future there will also be business networking, diaspora-related FDI, visits home, green-flag-flying, and those who will return home to transform “brain drain” into “brain circulation”.
On the second point, I’m not sure how this generation of Facebookers, Tweeters and Skypers will be any less attached to Ireland than the generations whose main contact with Ireland was a dwindling exchange of letters sent over on a slow boat.
Where I do agree wholeheartedly, however, is with Professor Harmon’s suggestion that this is an important cohort to study. He says:
If I can make one appeal, I would urge the very many successful Irish-Australians – or even Irish in Australia – to consider endowing the costs of capturing the experiences of this group through research and understanding the life trajectory of this group compared to those that came before them, and those that remained in Ireland.
I would love to see such a study, but I’d love to make it global. How does the experience of being Irish in Galway differ from that of being Irish in Beijing or Toronto or Dubai? Imagine being able to explore similarities and differences in issues of mental and physical health, longevity, happiness, family life, engagement with Ireland – you name it.