Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A new wave of young Irish workers head for Canada

The data page of a current Irish biometric pas...Image via Wikipedia
Tamsin McMahon, National Post · Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
On a chilly night last month, nearly 300 Irish men and women gathered at a downtown Toronto pub. The catch: they weren't there for a night of drinking, but for a sold-out seminar on how to navigate Canada's immigration system and find a job.
And they aren't the only ones. Ireland's Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that nearly 1,000 people are leaving the Republic each week. Most are young and educated and desperate to escape the country's economic woes, creating the largest exodus since the 1980s. And as they look abroad for new opportunities, the Irish are increasingly choosing Canada.
Traditionally, Irish economic migrants have flocked to the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. But Canada has seen a recent explosion in the number of Irish youth arriving, lured by its reputation of having weathered the global economic turmoil better than most countries.
"Worldwide, [Canada] is looking like the superstar of how to manage your economy," said Eamonn O'Loghlin, executive director of the Ireland Canada Chamber of Commerce. "So you have all these young, educated, highly skilled people in Ireland who are suddenly in a situation where there are very few jobs. They're looking around and they see how Canada has come through the recession and they see more opportunity here."
The number of temporary workers coming to Canada from Ireland has doubled since 2004. The upward trend began before the global recession. With demand for jobs abroad increasing, the Irish government pressured Canada to increase the number of working holiday visas given to their young people. These visas allow citizens of Ireland (and certain other countries) between the ages of 18 and 35 to work in Canada for up to two years. Canada plans to issue 5,000 of the visas to Irish citizens this year. That is double the number offered in 2009, and all will probably be taken, said Ray Bassett, Ireland's Ambassador to Canada. Last year, Canada planned to offer 4,000 working holiday visas but granted 4,229 due to demand.
"Canada's stock around the world has grown very, very considerably in the recent economic crisis and there has definitely been a big surge in immigration," Mr. Bassett said. "We'd prefer if our people didn't have to move, but they do at the moment because there isn't enough jobs and we're going through an economic downtown. The worst thing in the world would be if we didn't face up to that fact."
In the past, most working holiday visas went to students taking time off to go abroad, allowing them to work at bars and ski hills to pay for their vacations. These days, the visas are increasingly being sought by skilled workers struggling to find work in Ireland's mori-bund construction industry, along with university graduates looking for a quick way into Canada in the hope of finding full-time employment with a company that will eventually sponsor them.
" The numbers have changed, and probably the complexity of the migrants have changed," Mr. Bassett said. "There's probably a broader sweep of the socioeconomic group than I would say there was in the past."
Even people who immigrated to Ireland during the boom are leaving the country and using their Irish work experience to get entry into Canada, said Chris Willis, a Montreal based immigration consultant whose practice specializes in migration from Britain and Ireland.
He has noticed a sharp increase in business. "I had over 300 people show up to a seminar in Cork and over 200 in Galway, and there's a trade show in Dublin which had about 4,000 people come through the doors in two days," Mr. Willis said. "So those are pretty significant numbers."
In Ireland, the exodus is seen as a mixed blessing. It helps keep the country's unemployment rate, predicted to remain around 13% for the next two years, from skyrocketing. But it also means huge numbers of skilled workers are leaving in search of jobs.
"There's a fairly steady stream of inquiries from people who might be asking for help or information if they're thinking of going to work in Canada," said Sean Heading, of Ireland's Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, which held a seminar in November for unemployed skilled workers looking to work abroad. The sessions included representatives from Alberta's construction unions.
Mr. Heading worries about the dim economic opportunities in Ireland for his two teenaged sons. "I would not like to think that the only prospect they will have is emigration," he said. "We don't want to be exporting all our young people. It's not a nice prospect for mothers and fathers to be facing."
Increasing emigration put renewed pressure on the Irish government to allow expatriates to vote in Friday's general election. (Non-residents were not allowed to cast ballots.) The restriction was put in place to keep Ireland's huge diaspora from dominating the vote: The estimated three million Irish passport-holders living abroad would roughly equal the number of domestic voters.
"I have a network of friends around the world ... because everyone has left," said Brian Reynolds, a 29-year-old who moved from Ireland to Toronto 18 months ago and started ballotbox.ie, a website that allowed members of the Irish diaspora to cast a mock vote. "There's a lot of talk about the situation back home and the government and who's to blame and how it's going to recover. That kind of discussion wasn't ever there among my friends before now."
Mr. Reynolds said most workers have left so they would not be a drain on the unemployment system, and are using their earnings in Canada and elsewhere to pay down their debts in Ireland. Many are looking to move home when the economy recovers. He argues they should have had a say in the country's most-watched national election in years -in which longtime ruling party Fianna Fáil was booted out of office.
"If we could sort out the economy soon, and make it so jobs are increasing rather than decreasing, then I think we can get all the people back very quickly," he said. "I do have a lot of friends [who are] taking a few years out, letting Ireland get back on its feet, and they'll be back there to set up family and have kids."
Mr. Reynolds' own future is "up in the air." His girlfriend is sponsoring him as a permanent resident in Canada.
However, he said, "I'd say my future lies back in Ireland."
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