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Immigrants are an opportunity

Last update - Monday, August 15, 2011, 19:25 By Priya Rajsekar

At first undisguised curiosity, then rejection in shades ranging from open condemnation to resigned acceptance – Ireland’s immigrants have been at the receiving end of it all. And those that persevered, helped along by rare but strong gestures of welcome and friendship, have made that final crossover to citizenship almost unnoticed, in random courts around the country during breaks between hearings, the thin line separating the defendant and the new citizen almost imperceptible.

The recent move by the Government to introduce a citizenship ceremony is a very welcome and essential step in the right direction. I say essential not just for the immigrant, but also for Ireland, which now more than ever needs its immigrants to spread goodwill and build bridges with their homelands to pave the way for Ireland’s recovery. It is heartening to read reports of immigrants taking their citizenship oath in a memorable and respectable fashion.
For many immigrants who have only known governance under Fianna Fáil-led coalitions, the new moves are creating a positive first impression of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his party Fine Gael. I had written in a pre-election piece noting that major party manifestos were silent on the subject of immigration policy, but it is encouraging to see that Ireland is waking up to the value of its immigrants, the majority of whom make invaluable contributions to the economy.
Ireland has always viewed its immigrants as a threat – a perception that is proving to be quite expensive. It is easy to get carried away by stereotypical misconceptions, such as the commonly held view that immigrants are a burden on the State and live off the taxpayer.
As recently as last week there were reports in leading newspapers that junior doctors from India and Pakistan are being offered huge incentives and housed at the expense of the HSE, much to the chagrin of the expert news analysts on radio. In reality, it makes little economic sense for junior doctors who have made huge investments to obtain their degrees to accept low-paying jobs that involve inhuman hours with no overtime pay and very little prospects for growth.
When this truth is realised, naturally, Ireland will only be viewed as a stop-over or a first step to employment in more lucrative destinations such as United States, the UK or Canada.
It is for these very reasons that Ireland’s own medical practitioners seek employment outside the country. To run its hospitals, to keep big multinationals here and to provide invaluable skills in many areas, Ireland needs its immigrants, and it is important that the Government and media take adequate measures to get the truth out and quickly.
One area where the Government seems to have got it right is in immigrant entrepreneurship. It was quite heartening to read recently of the measures being considered to encourage immigrant entrepreneurs. Yet in this current economic crisis, rather than ride out the storm, perhaps immigrants who can leave will choose to do so –  and if this is the case, Ireland may have left it too late to take its immigrants more seriously. Still, the benefits of this measure will surely bear some fruit.
Another positive step has also been taken in the area of tourism. With the rise of the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) block and the growing prosperity of its citizens, tourists from these countries and others have increased purchasing power and now travel in significant numbers to foreign destinations. Ireland’s long-drawn, complicated and restrictive tourist visa policies, however, had been detrimental to the tourism industry. The huge numbers of tourists who visit the UK and Europe have more often than not skipped Ireland for this reason.
While in small measures, the recent relaxation of tourist visa requirements for certain visitors to the UK, who can now visit Ireland without a separate visa, is a move in the right direction, it has to be said that more needs to be done in this area.

To the outside world and to many immigrants, Ireland’s immigration policies seem opportunistic and ad-hoc. The need of the hour is an attitudinal change, whereby Ireland wakes up to the value of its immigrants and drafts a long-overdue immigration policy that primarily views immigrants as an opportunity rather than as a threat or a burden.

Priya Rajsekar is a freelance writer and co-founder of College Canteen, a student- academic social network.

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