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Are Ireland’s immigrants living from a suitcase?

Last update - Thursday, March 19, 2009, 19:06 By Priya Rajsekar

The first time I heard Leo Varadkar’s suggestion that immigrants could be ‘paid’ to leave Ireland, my immediate thought was that the Fine Gael TD does not fully appreciate that leaving is simply not an option for many immigrants.

It would seem from comments such as his that immigrants live out of a suitcase, and can just catch the next plane home once their adopted country ceases to be an attractive prospect, economically speaking. But in most cases this is far from reality.
The findings from the Trinity Immigration Initiative’s recent and ongoing study of migrants in the recession serve to strengthen the opinion that we do not necessarily head for the ports when there is a downturn.
That is not to say, of course, that some immigrants won’t depart if they are able to, and if there are more attractive options available. For the younger sections of the workforce, for instance, or those yet to start families or buy a home, leaving might be a possibility. But for people who have lived here for many years and put down roots, leaving is not an easy option.
It must not be forgotten that the cost of living in Ireland is one of the highest in the world, and income earned in many other countries will not be sufficient for financial commitments, including mortgages, in Ireland.
Then there is the question of family. For children that are born or have lived here most of their lives, Ireland is home. And for parents, it is a hard decision to uproot their children to a culture that would be alien or where the education system or the quality of life would be pronouncedly different.
Migration itself is a major decision. People migrate in search of a better life, not just in financial terms but also factoring in other considerations like culture, standard of living, education, mobility and healthcare. Because of this, the immigration departments of many nations – such as Canada and Australia – enlist the many attractions and facilities for a better life available in their countries so immigrants can make an informed decision. Such countries clearly realise the potential of a skilled immigrant workforce as an invaluable resource.
People who have chosen to put down roots in Ireland will have spent considerable time planning out their lives, and may have made several irreversible decisions as part of such a plan. For such people, leaving is probably the last resort.
But the subtle and overt persuasions to leave directed at the immigrant community, and the increased fear of immigrants becoming even more vulnerable to racist abuse and discrimination, indicates that if things were challenging at the peak of the Celtic Tiger, the average immigrant’s life will be riddled with hurdles in these tough times.
In an address to the Irish Management Institute last November, Integration Mini-ster Conor Lenihan TD spoke of the invaluable contributions immigrants have made to the Irish economy.
Studies from the Central Statistics Office also reveal that immigrants are highly qualified and often work in areas that under-utilise their potential.
Given the opportunity, immigrants could play a very crucial role in facilitating a turnaround. With fresh ideas, untapped skills and the determination to succeed against all odds, the value of the immigrant human resource available in Ireland today cannot be overemphasised.
Whether they are seen as a part of the problem or a part of the solution could determine an important aspect of Ireland’s future.

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