Emigration Today

Emigration Today

Approximately 36,000 people emigrated from Ireland in 2006, of whom just over 15,000 were Irish. Following the demise of the Irish economy since 2008, the figures for annual emigration have increased substantially. In 2012, over 87,000 emigrated from Ireland. Approximately 46,500 were Irish, which represented an increase of over 300% on the 2006 figure. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that in 2012, for example, over 20,000 Irish emigrants returned to the country. Due to the precarious economic situation of the UK, the U.S. and many other EU countries, as well as the difficulty attaining sponsorship in locations such as Australia, current emigration trends are quite complex. Consequently, projects such as Emigre are needed to provide a clearer picture of contemporary emigration from Ireland.

Who is emigrating

In previous decades marked by emigration, such as the 1950s and 1980s, the vast majority of people who left Ireland were young. This appears still to be the case today, with approximately 86% of emigrants aged between 15 and 44 years of age. Unlike many other European countries experiencing post-war emigration such as Italy, Portugal, Greece and Spain, males and females left Ireland in the 1950s in roughly equal numbers. In the 1980s, more males left Ireland than females, a trend that is also true of current emigration trends. Just under 80,000 Irish males emigrated from Ireland between 2009 and 2012, whereas the number of Irish females leaving in the same period was 57,000. This notable difference perhaps demonstrates the enormous downturn in the construction industry that has taken place since 2008 – although this has to be explored further. Interestingly, more females (both Irish and foreign females) from the 15-24 age category left than from the 25-44 age category from 2006 to 2012. By contrast, more males (both Irish and foreign males) in the 25-44 age category emigrated than in the 15-24 age group. We want to explain why these trends are occurring. Our study also aims to discover which age categories within the wide ranging 25-44 band are leaving. Is it predominantly people in their late twenties or is it people in their early thirties? Why are some people within this broad category (25-44 years old) leaving and others not? Emigre aims to answer these key questions.

Where are they going

In the 1950s, the vast majority of Irish emigrants headed for England. In the 1980s, England remained the number one destination but there was a renewed interest in the United States. Current emigrants appear to be going to a huge variety of destinations, including the Middle East and parts of Asia. Australia and Canada are frequently mentioned in debates on emigration. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that many people who leave for locations outside the EU are subject to a variety of immigration laws. Between April 2010 and April 2011, for example, nearly 22,000 Irish citizens applied for a working holiday visa in Australia. But in the same year, less than half that number received sponsorship to work there or permanent visas to remain. Therefore, the majority of Irish who have gone or who are going to Australia are likely to return to Ireland at some point in the future. Leaving for England remains an easier and cheaper option for many because of Irish citizens’ rights to live and work there without any legal hindrance. Emigration to other EU countries is also facilitated by Irish people’s rights as EU citizens, although going to non-English speaking countries often means that having another language is a desirable asset.

Why are they leaving

Ireland experienced an unprecedented period of economic growth from the early 1990s to 2007. Having reached a peak of over 70,000 in 1989, annual emigration decreased substantially thereafter. Nevertheless, it never came to a halt. Even during the so-called ‘boom’ years, emigration continued, with approximately 30,000 people of all nationalities leaving on average every year between 1995 and 2007 for a variety of reasons. The recent economic crisis has resulted in Ireland’s unemployment rate going from 4.4% in 2006 to over 14% today. During the same time period, emigration amongst Irish people has increased three-fold. Consequently, Ireland’s economic situation has had a notable impact on Irish emigration. Considering thousands of Irish people left when Ireland’s economy was prospering, however, not all Irish people who are leaving today are going due to the economic situation. This project will demonstrate the variety of reasons behind people’s decisions to leave Ireland. It also intends to discover who is more likely to return in the future.


Emigre Department of Geography University College Cork College Road Cork Ireland