We have a story this week in the paper about the live register being down in Mayo by more than 300 in April from what it was in March. But while any drop is welcomed, is it really telling the whole story? Over the next few weeks, thousands of third level students around the country and from this county will cease their full time education. As they balance their final exams over the next few weeks, they also have to look ahead to an ever more uncertain future. Some will stay on to do postgraduate study. For some it is something they always planned to do, while for others it can be a kind of half-way house between necessity and choice as the job prospects are not great in their chosen field at the minute and a postgraduate qualification is becoming the base entry requirement, as once a Leaving Certificate was, which then went on to a degree and now it’s postgraduate.
For others, it’s the jet plane and you only have to look at the figures published in a national newspaper yesterday to see how serious this problem is. Almost 50,000 Irish people took up visas to Australia and Canada last year. That’s a crowd that would fit into the Aviva stadium for a big game, gone from these shores in the past year to just two countries. Almost 5,000 Irish born citizens became permanent residents of Australia. That’s almost half the population of Castlebar, according to the last Census, becoming permanent residents of Australia last year alone.
Australia is the current destination of choice for the young, mobile, and skilled with more than 25,000 receiving working holiday visas for last year. The visas may be for working holidays, but for lots it’s the first footsteps to a permanent ex-pat future. I’m of an age to know plenty of people who did the year-long working holiday in Australia for a year in the early to mid 2000s. But that’s not what people are doing now, it’s not about heading to southeast Asia for a few months’ experience before 10 months bumming around the coasts on an extended holiday and then coming home. It’s work they are going for and hoping for.
You only have to look at how quick the working and temporary visa scheme to Canada was picked up in this country. Within a very short time of the programme coming on stream, it was over subscribed. Last year 6,680 Irish people got temporary working visas, 6,000 got working visas and 5,350 were given working holiday visas to Canada. That’s an awful lot of Irish spreading out from Toronto to Vancouver in the past 12 months. While the figures for places like Australia and Canada — where you need visas to enter — look huge, we have to remember our nearest and oldest release valve when it comes to emigration, where you don’t need any visa to work. While the live register in Mayo is down by 300 in the past month, why is it down by 300? Is it because 250 more are gone to Australia, Canada, the UK or futher afield? The emigrants’ train we thought was a thing of the past is still calling at stations around this county every week and we don’t seem to know where the end of the line is, just yet.