Young Irish people have always travelled and moved abroad. Until the economic boom of the 1990s, this was usually because of necessity: there were few job or career opportunities here.
During that boom, which ended about 2008, more graduates left out of choice. But the recession marked another exodus and, in recent years, young people who see little prospect of being able to afford rental accommodation — let alone ever own a home — have felt forced out again. The European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand are popular destinations.
But many haven’t the first clue where to start. Visas, jobs and work permits, finding accommodation, adjusting to a new country and culture, figuring out a different language and getting a bank account are all part of what’s involved in starting afresh.
Crosscare, which has been working with Irish emigrants since the 1980s, established the Diaspora support project in 2022, providing advice and support to Irish emigrants overseas
“DiasporaSupport.ie signposts to official sources of information for visas and working holidays, as well as organises events for people moving abroad, webinars providing information about working holidays,” says Sarah Owen, project leader of Crosscare Irish diaspora support.
“We focus on providing support at all stages of the journey, from organising to going abroad, being there, coming back, and supporting people coming back from crisis, such as a conflict zone. We are part of 170 welfare groups funded by the Government of Ireland’s emigrant support programme.”
Visas and requirements
“We are so used to freedom of movement in the EU, so we don’t always think of visas,” says Owen.
“Visas will differ depending on the country you are going to, and some places will require you to have a job before you go.”
An Irish passport is the sixth most powerful in the world, according to the Henley Passport Index. Irish passport holders can access 187 destinations without a visa, highlighting a global inequality that allows people from wealthier, largely white countries the mobility to travel and access opportunities while brown and black-skinned people from poorer nations are often locked out.
But even for Irish people abroad, that visa is likely to be for holidays only and will have stipulations around work, so it’s important to check out what agreement, if any, exists between Ireland and the country you’re going to, and what it stipulates around work and other regulations.
Canada, for instance, is relatively open to young Irish emigrants, with its working holiday stipulation allowing Irish emigrants to stay for up to two years. Australia will allow Irish citizens to apply for a second working holiday visa on the condition that they complete 88 days of “regional work” in a specified industry where there are labour shortages including farm work, fishing, tree farming and felling, mining or construction.
“Even within the EU, Irish immigrants to other countries may need to register for a national insurance number or ID card: a lot depends on the country in question,” says Owen.
You can find details on official government websites or through DiasporaSupport.ie.
Whether or not you need to secure work before you go, or whether you can do it when you get there, you’ll still need to find a job.
Job websites and forums are easy to access via the usual routes on Google (eg “Australia working holiday jobs Perth”), but Owen says that networking is how many jobs are secured.
“Can a friend give you tips on where they found work? Are there emigrant support groups that you can connect with through social media?
“EU citizens can generally move to another country and undertake employment there, but there are rules around accessing supports,” Owen advises. “You can’t be a ‘burden on the state’ in Germany, for instance.”
It is easier to take up a rental property in some countries than others, Owen says, pointing to France as a place where a guarantor is required.
Housing may be the biggest push factor for graduates looking to leave Ireland but, for a plethora of different reasons, there are also housing crises in many other cities. It’s no real surprise that these cities include London, New York and Dublin. But not everyone will know that Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore and much of New Zealand have affordability and supply issues too.
“It’s important to know the lay of the land before you go,” says Owen.
Banking and administration
Revolut does not work everywhere, not all bank cards will work abroad, and Irish driving licences will not necessarily be accepted, Owen says. These are all things that Irish immigrants to other countries should consider before leaving Ireland.
“Our website has detailed information and we try to make it easy with a checklist of what is needed,” Owen says. “It is really easy to get stuck in the weeds with this stuff, so a lot depends on being organised.”
Graduates have good reasons to want out of Ireland, but homesickness can kick in even for those who can’t wait to see the back of this country — especially when they’re as far away as Australia or New Zealand.
“For someone going abroad in their 20s, it can be helpful to connect with friends or emigrant groups for when they arrive initially,” says Owen. “There is, for instance, an Irish support agency in Sydney and, in Canada, an Irish immigration centre that can offer support when people arrive.”
Finally, although Facebook isn’t particularly popular with people in their 20s, it’s worth reactivating your account to connect with groups full of people who have gone through an emigration journey, such as Irish Moving to Australia or Irish in Dubai.
Why I emigrated and what it’s been like
Éadaoin O’Gorman (26) emigrated to Canada
I am 26 and from Cahir in Tipperary. l moved to Vancouver, Canada in 2018 and have lived here since.
There were quite a lot of push factors: lack of job opportunities, not being able to afford housing and also not being qualified for jobs or lacking the required experience needed. The prospect of graduating from college, moving back to Tipperary and living with my parents was not one I wanted for myself.
Vancouver has so many Irish people. I am always asked why there are so many of us here and I always say that Ireland is not a country for young people. I currently only have two friends still living in Ireland, the rest have emigrated to Australia or Dubai or England.
I had a friend in Vancouver at the time when I was picking where to go. Vancouver is a beautiful city surrounded by ocean and mountains, a city where being outdoors is a possibility all year long which was something I loved right from the start. The job opportunities are plentiful and the ability to work hard and to prove yourself are available for young people like me who don’t have the years of experience that’s needed at home. And the social side is great, with beach days in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.
If I could package up Vancouver and its culture and pop it off the coast of Ireland I would do it. Homesickness has definitely been a part of my life here. I miss my family and my dog and the time difference can be hard but I am lucky to have very supportive parents who can see I have made a really good life for myself and am achieving things that I wouldn’t be able to have if I stayed in Ireland.
It is relatively easy to move to Canada. The Irish and Canadian governments have a two-year visa agreement that is simple and cheap to apply for. I am not sure how much has changed post-Covid but I had mine approved within the same month. l applied for it and it was roughly $300 (€200). The website can be a bit glitchy but it’s a very straightforward process.
If I could offer advice to anyone moving to Canada, it would be to come open-minded and throw yourself into the opportunities that are offered to you, especially socially. It can be easy to come over and stay in your Irish bubble here which does help the homesickness but there is so much more to Canada/Vancouver than the Irish pubs. l also think that people should come with no set return date, don’t plan on just staying for a year or two — just come and see what happens. Also, join the Irish in Vancouver Facebook page: it is a trove of knowledge!