Over half the foreign workers in Ireland since 2004 have left the country, new statistics show.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show that of the 118,000 foreign workers who applied for employment cards in 2004, 52 per cent have since left the country.

The number of new workers coming in has also dropped significantly.There were 127,0000 employment cards issued last year, down from a peak of 226,000 in 2005. Overall, close to a million foreign workers registered between 20002 and 2008, a massive figure given that the Irish population is only 4 million.

The cause is clearly the deep recession which has turned the Irish economy into one of the least successful ones in Europe. The collapse of the property boom in particular has resulted in thousands of construction workers leaving. 2004 is the benchmark year because ten new countries were absorbed in the European Union, and many of the new workforce dates from that period.

The numbers show that construction, hotels, restaurants and general business activities were the top employers of the new workers, and that men outnumbered women by a large margin. The largest numbers of new arrivals came from Poland.

“The trend seems to be that people are most likely to leave in the years immediately following their arrival. The longer a migrant worker stays in the country the less likely they are to leave,” said Adrian Redmond, senior statistician with the CSO.