How Has Immigration Shaped Ireland?

There are over 500,000 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland, which accounts for more than 10% of the population. This wave of immigration has had a strong influence on the country over the past two decades, shaping it into a diverse, multicultural society.

Irish immigration: then and now

In the past, Ireland has been associated less with immigration and more with emigration. The Great Famine of the 1840s prompted many to leave the country in search of a better life. This trend continued throughout the 20th Century, with many Irish citizens seeking new opportunities in countries like the USA, Australia, and Britain.

Now, however, it’s a different story. Ireland has experienced a reversal of fortunes in recent years. The economic boom of the 1990s made Ireland an attractive proposition, bringing a steady flow of migrants and asylum seekers. For the first time in modern history, Ireland became a country of net immigration.

The 2008 recession hit the country hard, but the economy has now recovered – and 10 years later, immigration levels hit their peak. According to the Central Statistics Office, 90,300 people moved to Ireland between April 2017 and April 2018, representing the highest level of immigration since the economic downturn.

These days, the Emerald Isle still retains a distinctly Irish flavor. But it is also a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and beliefs. And happily so. A 2018 report produced by the Social Change Initiative found that Irish people view themselves as ‘open, tolerant, optimistic and welcoming’ when it comes to the integration of refugees and migrants.

The Irish Diaspora Strategy

Those emigrating to Ireland come from all walks of life, both within the European Union and outside. Yet there’s also a new kind of migration happening, in that more and more Irish nationals are returning home from overseas. This is a reversal of the so-called ‘brain drain’, where a lack of jobs previously forced many Irish citizens to seek career opportunities abroad.

Now, Ireland is known for its educated workforce. Start-up companies and major tech firms have put roots down in Ireland, making it a magnet for skilled labor. Unemployment rates are low, hovering at around 4.93% in 2019, as opposed to 12.61% in 2009. This has drawn many people back to the country, something that the government is keen to encourage.

So much so, in fact, that the government has launched the Irish Diaspora Strategy. This seeks to support and engage with the 70 million people living across the globe who are either Irish-born or have Irish ancestry. According to the strategy document, over the next five years, the Global Ireland program aims to:

Ensure the welfare of the Irish abroad
Promote Irish values abroad and celebrate the diversity of the Irish diaspora
Built mutually beneficial economic ties
Support cultural expression among the Irish diaspora
Extend Ireland’s global reach by connecting with the next generation

Do you have Irish ancestry?

The Irish Diaspora Strategy could, in turn, have an impact on immigration to Ireland. According to the document, the strategy will ‘make concerted efforts to connect with people born outside the island of Ireland who is entitled to Irish citizenship.’ This will entail:

Supporting events aimed at connecting with Irish citizens born outside the island of Ireland to welcome them as part of Ireland’s diaspora
Providing, as part of Foreign Births Registration, information on how to connect to Ireland and engage with diaspora communities across the world
Introducing ceremonies to welcome new citizens receiving Foreign Births Registration certificates in locations abroad
This could open the doors of immigration to those who are entitled to an Irish passport, but who have not yet acted on this privilege – either because they did not realize it, or because they didn’t know where to start. The question is: do you have Irish ancestry? If so, it could be easier than ever to work and study in Ireland.

Benefits of emigrating to Ireland

While the Emerald Isle was previously seen as a place with few prospects, it is now the second wealthiest country in the EU. This has attracted a thriving international community. Those looking to emigrate give Ireland serious consideration, and with good reason.

There are numerous benefits of moving to Ireland, including employment opportunities, a diverse workforce, and, of course, the welcoming Irish culture. We explore some of the benefits of emigrating to Ireland in greater detail below.

Employment opportunities

Ireland has bounced back from the economic recession of 2008 and is now enjoying healthy employment growth. Job opportunities abound, particularly in sectors such as technology, tax, accounting, engineering, and healthcare.

Lenient tax laws and the UK’s exit from the European Union have persuaded many companies to move their headquarters to Ireland. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have main offices in Ireland, while the provision of start-up grants is helping fledgling businesses across the country. Migrants, therefore, have the option of working for small independent companies, or for large international corporations.

The emphasis in recent years has been to grow Ireland’s skilled workforce. Unlike the years of the ‘brain drain’, there are now established career paths for those with higher education. There are also plenty of other jobs available, particularly in Ireland’s rural communities where migrant workers play a key role in the agricultural industry.

Diverse workforce

Often, a city or country will attract migrants from a specific locale. Not so with Ireland. The country has an incredibly diverse workforce. In terms of numbers, the majority of non-Irish residents come from the UK, mainland Europe, and Brazil. There are also strong communities of South Africans, Americans, Australians, Indians…and so the list goes on.

This provides the chance to live and work in a cosmopolitan society that, as the legalization of gay marriage in 2015 shows, favors inclusion and tolerance. You’ll likely be working alongside Irish colleagues, as well as those from the European Union and further afield.


Ireland is a safe place by modern standards. Crime rates are low at just 0.90% per 100k population in 2017. Compared to places like the USA and Brazil, there is little-to-no gun crime, with gun ownership restricted to certain professions such as farming.

Safety is an important factor for anyone, regardless of age or gender. It will be especially crucial for those with children, or those who are planning to have children in the near future. This is actually a big draw for migrants from certain backgrounds, many of whom want to relocate to Ireland to give their families a better, safer life.

Accessible healthcare

The healthcare system in Ireland is not straightforward to explain but suffice it to say, it is very accessible for those who are legally resident in the country. Put simply, anyone who is living in Ireland on a permanent basis is entitled to healthcare. For a certain percentage of the population, this will be entirely free. For everyone else, there are some fees involved, although these are low thanks to government subsidies.

Having access to affordable healthcare is a major bonus, and is not a guarantee in every country. In the USA, for example, you must arrange your own private health insurance. This can be expensive, and certain medical issues might not be covered by the policy.

There are also other healthcare initiatives in Ireland to safeguard the population, regardless of whether you are an Irish citizen or not. This includes heavily subsidized maternity care and free medical care for children up to the age of six.

Free schooling

If you are hoping to emigrate with your children, or you intend to start a family, then another benefit is free schooling. In fact, education is free to all children until the age of 16 or 17, no matter where they were born or where their parents originate from. The only costs that might be incurred are school uniforms, books, and school trips. Otherwise, every child in Ireland has the right to a free education.

As it stands, if your child were to become an Irish citizen (which is permitted after a period of naturalization), then he/she would also be entitled to a free university education.

Transport links

Like much of Europe, Ireland has a good public transport system. It’s easy to travel around the major cities (and the country in general) on buses and trains, benefitting both commuters and sightseers. Rental cars are inexpensive to hire, meaning you can readily access the more rural parts of Ireland too. The country has five international airports with direct flights to Europe, the USA, and a host of other countries. This puts you in the convenient position of having cheap, reliable transport links on your doorstep.

Proximity to Europe

Talking of travel, have you ever noticed that Ireland sits pretty much at the center of the global map? This is a huge advantage for lots of young migrants, many of whom want to explore Europe, all while forging a successful career. This is only possible in a handful of places – Ireland being one of them.

Employees from abroad can enjoy all the advantages that come with working in Ireland, including good wages, earning the Euro, and an English-speaking population. They can then use Ireland as their base, hopping across to Europe, the US, and even Canada, all of which are a short flight away.

Annual leave

Ireland has robust employment laws that work to protect employees, regardless of their wages. The law stipulates that those with a full-time job are entitled to at least 20 days’ annual leave. This is markedly better than in some countries.

The Irish culture
Last but not least, there’s the Irish culture. Ireland is known for so many things – its music, its dancing, its pubs, and of course its warm hospitality. Ireland is called the land of a thousand welcomes and has a long tradition of embracing strangers. It’s no different today, with a strong social scene enjoyed by locals and ex-pats alike.

Immigration consultants Ireland

If you would like to emigrate to Ireland, please contact our immigration solicitors. We can explain the best immigration route for you and can handle the process on your behalf. This removes the burden from your shoulders and increases your prospects of a successful application.

To speak to an Irish immigration specialist, don’t delay, please call us now at +353 1 264 5555 or complete our Online Enquiry and we’ll be delighted to help you.