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Economy Watch: view from Dublin

By Brendan Keenan

Published 08/09/2015

Almost 81,000 people left Ireland in the year to April - almost 2% of the population and not much different from recent years. But one cannot stop there. Around 70,000 people entered the country, which was an increase of almost 9,000 on 2014.

Popular perceptions are also challenged by the kind of people who were on the move. Most surprising perhaps is that fewer than one in seven emigrants described themselves as unemployed; the rest being in work or students. This is less surprising to researchers who established years ago that differences in welfare rates between Ireland and the UK is the main factor in the classical jobless emigration.

Another feature worth noting is that more than 60% of the emigrants for whom details are known had a third level education or post-Leaving Cert qualification. One possible conclusion from this is that the quality of work and career prospects in Ireland are unattractive to many young people.

They are predominantly young, with 85% aged between 15 and 44, although 90% of female emigrants were in this age group. Politicians set great store on the experience of the 1990s, when 1980s emigrants returned in great numbers, leading to a possibly unique situation where immigration was improving the qualifications of the workforce.

Irish nationals have been coming back - 60,000 since the economy bottomed out in 2012 - but that is dwarfed by the 170,000 who left. As for qualifications, more than two-thirds of immigrants had also been educated beyond secondary level, which again runs counter to popular stereotypes.

It seems being footloose is another answer to why Ireland is different. We have mixed feelings about this, but the reality is labour mobility is one requirement for a successful monetary union. It is one of the many requirements which the euro area does not possess in sufficient quantity but a country with a mobile labour force can expect to weather the ups and downs better.

Those born outside Ireland now make up one in eight of the population. I am inclined to feel that our connections with the UK mean it should have a category of its own, but even excluding it still leaves 10% who are foreign-born.

Of these, half are from the 13 newer, poorer members of the EU which joined since 2004. On account of some strange affinity, Brazilians make up almost half of the rest.

These "non-nationals" are pretty mobile too. Some 230,000 entered the country since 2010, but around the same number left. The annual flows have been surprisingly steady, with no clear evidence that immigrants from poorer countries were more likely to stay as the recession ground on than those from richer parts.

But with net immigration of 22,000, there are signs that the recovery of the last two years is changing the pattern as regards the EU-13, Brazil and Asia. Judging by the latest economic statistics, this trend may intensify over the current 12 months.

Belfast Telegraph

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