Workforce returns to its homeland in the course of time: Ireland’s experience

30. janvāris, 2006


Braiens Makkormiks

Referāts konferencē "Vai Latvija iet Īrijas pēdās: darbaspēka migrācija" 2006. gada 20. janvārī.

Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting FAS to relate some of our experience and I must say so far I have got a very warm reception here in Latvia despite the weather.

My remit today is to talk about the Irish experience and of bringing our workers back into Ireland after the emigration and how Latvia can learn from that. As Minister Ahern has alluded already, there are certain things that we can learn from, but each country is also different and people more than anything else. You can make theories about capital, about money, about how it reacts, but people are notoriously unpredictable and it is a well-known fact that emigration forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. So, hopefully we’ll glean something from it, but don’t try and replicate the Irish model to a T.

What I’m going to do… I’m going to look briefly at the immigration history, then I am going to concentrate more on the profile of our return migrants and how we brought them back, the policies we used to bring them back. And also, I will relate briefly to what is currently happening in Ireland at the moment because immigration really is the hot topic in the labour market. And finally, I will make a little sales pitch, it is actually a free plug for an initiative that we have for farm workers called “Know before you go!”

This graph gives a stark representation really of what has been happening over the last century. Essentially, we were the emigration nation up until the 1970s. One of the differences between Ireland and Latvia is when we joined the European Union, or the EC as it was then, we didn’t see mass migration, partly because we didn’t have the languages of most of these countries… and most of the emigration that had been taking place had been to England, which had happened prior to the EU.

Similarly with Spain and a lot of the Mediterranean countries: when they joined, there was no mass migration. And, a lot of people talk when the EU-10 joined, that there wouldn’t be significant migration into Ireland. There is a big debate about that in the Nice Treaty. However, there has been quite a lot…so you really can’t generalize from other countries experiences… Different economic factors.

The main profile of our immigration was young people. However when times were really hard, pretty much everyone emigrated, primarily the 15 to 24-year-old group tended to emigrate. And up until the 1960s the vast majority of the migration was pretty low educated, because we didn’t have a strong education system in place at the time.

However, that changed in the 1980s, when we saw…well, in the 1960s and 1970s… we put a lot of investment into education and these workers started to become active, and attracted, abroad. You can see from this graph here… the green represents the third level, or the higher degree level workers… and they left, about 17 % of them left. Up to 25% of them left throughout the 1980s and then, as economic conditions got worse, the lower educated left as well.

Why did they leave?

Well, first and foremost, they didn’t leave because there were no jobs in Ireland. The higher educated could get the jobs; initially anyway. They left because the jobs that they were doing were not commensurate to their skills. And, it is quite similar in that respect in Latvia. in that Latvians and other East Europeans who are working in Ireland work in jobs that are not commensurate with their skills, but they are still coming here. …So that can only be one aspect. Towards the end of the 1980s economic conditions got very bad in Ireland and then everyone left as they have been doing from the EU-10- a lot of people leaving.

More recently, people continued to leave. Young people continued to leave in the early 1990s. And, we have a survey of the reasons, or the factors as to why people were leaving.

And it started to change. We can see from this table here that 40% in 1992 left just because they wanted to see the world… sense for adventure. And if you look at if they were sad about leaving Ireland, no they weren’t. They were very happy to go. 60% were looking forward to go. So that was, if you like, a social profile of the type of person who was leaving Ireland at the time in 1992. But these were the people who actually did return back in the late 1990s. In between that time the economic and employment miracle in Ireland started to take root. Between 1998 and 2005 the employment level doubled. And this had a dramatic impact on our gross migration flows with immigration crossing emigration flows around the mid 1990s and it really hasn’t looked back since.

So, why did they return? Specifically, why did those who left in the early 1990s return? Again they didn’t return so much for jobs. Some of them did return for jobs, but a lot of them returned because of life style choices, family commitments. They just found Ireland an attractive place to come to. And, in some respect, that is a key if you want to bring people back to your country, who are doing well abroad, you’ve got to sell the country to them., The only experience that they have is what they know, and it is very hard to correct that…. And that’s, I suppose, a basic law of human nature.

The mid-1990s. 45 % of the emigrants coming back, [when – ed.] this immigrant wave started, were Irish… In 2001, again 45% were coming back. But the type of emigrants who were coming back now to Ireland who are Irish were different. There were more people who were gone away for a year, gone away to Australia, to Thailand etc. And we see that if you look to the bottom level there, the yellow, the rest of the world those not from the EU, those not from the UK, those not from Ireland started to increase the important side of the increase. And in that rest of the world, that includes the EU-10. Up until 2005 we have half of the immigrants come from outside the EU-15 or America. The reason was of course because we had the jobs, employment, we couldn’t fill the jobs with our own workers. And it is easy to see why people left if you look at the unemployment rates across the EU-25: almost 20% in Poland, Latvia just around the side of the EU average, and in Ireland down at 4 %, the lowest unemployment rate in the EU.

If we look at the current situation in the last year and a half, we’ve been averaging about 10,000 workers coming into Ireland, to register for work from the EU-10. And that has actually increased slightly over recent months, so it is not just a big bang just after a recession. It is actually… they come in, they start to build networks and the word has got around. And also, there has been a preference among the employers. The employers say that… Latvian and Lithuanian workers are hard workers and they want them. In terms of the number Latvians coming in… they represent about 9% of the 150,000 who have come in over the last 15-16 months, …per capita they probably are the highest representative in their country.

So what do we do to bring them back? Well, I work with FAS, which is the Employment and Training Authority. And we were given the role of trying to bring the Irish workers back. We were given en 4 million from the government. They said, OK, you have to devise the strategy to bring the Irish people back. The problem at the time was … this was in 1999…at the time of the Celtic Tiger, the economic miracle, had taken off, and we had a lot of labour shortages, especially skilled shortages. So the focus for FAS was to identify what the skill shortages were and then to go, if you like, and headhunt. First and foremost, the Irish workers from abroad, skilled workers and then we also extended it very much to the EU and to the EEA. And the idea was to have them “job-ready”, so they’d come over here, we didn’t have to train them, they’d be ready, they’d have their experience. And the brain drain that Ireland experienced after we had given the investments in the 1960s and 1970s. We lost it in the 80s and it turned into a brain-gain…where we got a “value-added” return. We invested in the education, they got their experience abroad and they were bringing it back into Ireland. And it was a very far-sighted government policy in the 1960s and 1970s to realize they were going to come back in the 1990s. I am sure a lot of people take credit for that.

So the objective of bringing them back, was first of all, as I said… in some sense it is window dressing. Unless you have the economic fundamentals there, you can’t attract them back. All the spin in the world won’t bring them back. But you do want them to look into the window and say “Yes, there is something different now”. So that was part of it, we wanted to create an awareness that there were jobs, they were coming back to a vibrant economy, and that survey showed that there was a lifestyle there to be offered. And we wanted to encourage qualified workers to return, we also wanted for employers who’d come to Ireland, many of them … multinationals who’d come partly because of our low tax base, but also the promise of a highly educated workforce who could fill the jobs. We wanted to fulfil that promise till the end and create a global platform that they could recruit Irish and non-Irish workers. As well we also wanted to develop the existing resources that we had – that we really hadn’t tapped into – partnerships between businesses and between different government departments. So the key elements of what became known as “JobsIreland” – that was the strategy that FAS developed to bring Irish and non-Irish workers back.

The key planks, if you like, were: one, we set up a website www.jobireland.com. We also had to identify what employment opportunities were there; we launched an advertising and media campaign and again we utilized what was there, we only had 4 million to play with so we utilised what was there. We ‘piggy- backed’ on the Irish media abroad, whether it was The Irish Voice magazine in America, or websites, sports websites, that we know the Irish people would be clicking into. On St Patrick’s Day in New York we held a big event again just to utilize the media that was there already. We also hired PR consultants in the different countries; we tended to go to English speaking countries and expatriate countries.

One of the big resource-intensive methods that we used were recruitment fairs – we used to get the companies to come over and we went to diverse places as South Africa, India, America of course, and across Europe, and we’d bring the companies over and they would recruit there and then. And we often got political involvement, we got our minister and the ambassador to open the conference and that covered over any sort of local resentment there might be to recruiting farm workers.

And by and large it was successful. In six months, the website had 20 million hits on the site and there were over 400,000 people who attended the fairs, and a lot of people did come back.

One comparative advantage that we had was that we were the only country at the time when skills were at a shortage throughout the world. At a premium, we were the only country that had a designated task force to bring back skilled workers and to bring in foreign skilled workers.

All that said, the key that can be translated to the Latvian experience is that we had a strong economy. That was based on educated workforce, investment in education, a low tax rate, as minister Ahern alluded in 1997, we started the partnership agreement, which had kept wages relatively moderate in exchange for low tax rates and we had low corporation taxes to bring in the companies in the first place.

Without the fundamentals there, the rest literally is just window dressing…its just spin…so that if you like was the key.

Just briefly… I just want to mention an initiative that FAS have also developed to help workers from foreign countries who are coming to Ireland, primarily from the EU-10 who are coming to Ireland, and who are in danger of being exploited. It is not such a big problem now because since the EU-10 they have the same rights as Irish workers, but it still is happening. We have a picture here of a guy called Janis Numans. He was followed over by the Washington Post. They tracked him leaving Latvia and he came over to Ireland and they followed his experience. And what happened to Janis, unfortunately, he came over and initially he came into the hands of a rather unscrupulous Irish employer in the agricultural sector and he was very much exploited. Fortunately, he found a better job that paid at the minimum wage, actually above the minimum wage, and he is doing well now.

The key is – in the Irish case, we came back. We got our skills and we came back. And economic theory will suggest that when the relative wealth of the sending country rises, the higher skilled people will come back, not the lower skilled. The lower skilled tend to be embedded in the receiving country, but the higher skilled people will come back. But it is only if they have increased their knowledge wealth in the receiving country. What is happening at the moment I suppose for a lot of Latvians and a lot of Eastern Europeans is they’re highly skilled coming over, but they are not working in jobs that are commensurate with their skills. And we would really like to…from a selfish point of view…we would like to see them working in jobs that we can utilise them most. And it’s very important that before they go, they go through the right channels. And that’s why FAS is promoting this, what we call “Know before you go” campaign, and basically we have a CD and an information pack on the correct procedure when you are coming into Ireland and its in Latvian, it’s in all the different languages, and get it on your TV and on your newspapers because we don’t want there to be another 1,000 Janis. We really want people to upskill in terms of experience in jobs that are relevant to their skills.

Thank you!

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