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Swapping dole queues for customs queues

More and more of our nation’s youth are trading in the dole queues for the customs queues at airports, as emigration reaches its highest level since the late eighties. While Ireland has become the sick man of the European Union, its leaders have neglected to acknowledge what has become the forgotten national crisis.

The latest CSO figures show that emigration has increased by a startling 81% since 2006. 45,000 people have already left for greener pastures and a similar amount is expected to follow next year. To help grasp the enormity of this figure, it is approximately equal to the population of Kilkenny. While the level of overall emigration remained constant with last year’s figure, emigration among Irish nationals increased from 18,400 in 2009 to 27,700 this year.

The government has turned a blind eye to these soaring figures, even using them to distort truths about others domestic issues. Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe was crowing about how the number of jobless people in the country had dropped for the second consecutive month, failing to mention that growing emigration had far more to do with this, than any government employment stimulus project.

The idea of the so called “smart economy” was the government’s best hope of recovery two years ago. Today with the unemployment rate hovering constantly around the 13 percent mark, this idea is dead with little chance of revival any time soon.

So where are these skilled workers going to find the employment that their training merits? Historically, the UK and Australia have always been popular resettlement locations for the Irish, and recently Canada been attracting more and more of our graduates. Australian immigration minister Chris Bowen doesn’t plan on bucking the trend any time soon as he last week announced a new “points system”, which will make it easier for skilled migrants from Ireland to get into Australia from July 1, 2011. The Australian government is to accept applications from skilled Irish workers up to the age of 50 and bonus points will be awarded to university graduates, in particular those with PhDs and those with ‘superior English’. Liz O’Hagan, managing director of Irish visa company Australian Visa Specialists, has called the plans “very Irish friendly” and thinks that “these changes will open doors for many potential emigrants, especially those with extensive work experience.”

Whether it is London, Sydney or Toronto many of Ireland’s graduates are feeling forced to migrate in order to find the employment that their qualifications deserve. Some are finding work even further afield. One such graduate is former Trinity College Dublin student Rachel Ruddy. After countless hours of work and thousands of euros, Miss Ruddy is now a fully qualified physiotherapist, but with little to no job prospects in Ireland she will be utilising her talent in Singapore. “Even before the recession, job prospects for physiotherapists were bad, but now it’s near impossible”, said Miss Ruddy. Miss Ruddy continues,” I graduated with about 30 others last summer, and just six of those have found employment in Ireland. Nine of my classmates are going to Singapore as well and three have found work in New Zealand.” Miss Ruddy’s long term plan is consistent with many in her shoes; to gain the necessary experience to one day return to Ireland to make her way in her chosen profession.

Given the times that we find ourselves in and the stagnant job market showing no signs of revival, the high numbers of those flocking out of the country have to be expected. However instead of ignoring or chastising emigrants, the government should be supporting them in getting the experience that this nation can’t currently provide, which will someday help towards rebuilding Ireland’s economy.

A link between FÁS and its corresponding international agencies could be set up to help Irish citizens gain this vital experience by identifying potential opportunities. For example, it is estimated that Germany will need 40,000 foreign skilled workers to maintain active growth.

Instead however, the government is closing its eyes and putting its fingers in its ears, so it’s left up to the people to make sure that Ireland’s “smart economy” doesn’t go off the rails at the final stop. After a 54 percent drop in construction jobs since 2006, the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) has even set up an emigration workshop for its members to advise them if they do choose that path. As with so many other of the country’s big issues, Ireland’s leaders have put off unclogging the brain drain.

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