In the Celtic Tiger years it slowed to a trickle, but now in the bad times, emigration from Ireland is once again picking up rapidly.
That’s the word from Irish organizations like the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Queens and the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers.
“We have been noticing an increase for the past three years, but since this summer in particular through to September we’re getting a significant increase in the number of calls, emails and walk-ins to our center from recent arrivals,” Siobhan Dennehy, the executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodside, told the Irish Voice.
Unlike in previous years, though, the new Irish arrivals are coming from every county (not just the most rural ones) and they represent all backgrounds, from construction workers to graduates with master’s degrees. And apart from their land of origin, the thing they all share in common is their desperation to find a job -- any job -- and build a life here.
“We’re seeing a resurgence of young families arriving in the Woodside and Woodlawn areas,” says Dennehy. “Some are coming back but many are arriving here for the first time.
“The second demographic trend we’re seeing is the arrival of young, recent graduates. They’re coming to a city in recession, but they’re still coming.”
The majority of those coming here, due to the stringent U.S. immigration laws, find themselves becoming undocumented after a period of 90 days.
“Beyond the 90 days their fate is sealed if they’ve overstayed immigration,“ says Dennehy. “But even in this climate the logic is clear for most immigrants -- it’s still better than being at home.”
Dennehy’s advice to new arrivals is to use the Emerald Isle Immigration Center for help. There may be an avenue to legal status that they don’t know about, she says.
“At least come in, get that individual counseling on immigration so that you’re armed in terms of what may be available,” she said.
“Don’t go on the word of someone else; see a professional at our office. And use our network on job referrals. The best advice is to use our networks. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It really does make a difference.”
In Yonkers, another Irish stronghold, the executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center Orla Kelleher can see first hand that a new influx of Irish immigrants is arriving.
In comparison to two or three years ago there’s a lot of Irish people coming out here now, she says. The average age is 25 and most of them have a third level education, but most of them do not have a work visa.
“A lot of the new arrivals don’t qualify for the Irish graduate visa because they graduated from college in Ireland over 12 months ago. They might have a degree in psychology or marketing but they can’t find a U.S. employer to sponsor them,” she says.
If an employer has a choice between someone who has legal status or someone who needs to apply for a work visa, most employers are going to pick the easier route, she says.
“We’ve seen fathers who’ve left their families at home to come over here and work for a few months at a time. They make some money over a period and then return after three months or so.
“The question facing anyone coming here is, which is the lesser of two evils? To be sitting at home trying to figure out how to feed your kids next week -- or to be out here and earning enough money to support your family?
“It’s been so damaging to people who have been home on the dole (social welfare assistance) for the past year or two. It’s been absolutely soul destroying for a lot of people.”
Kelleher admits the Aisling Center has seen a spike in relationship issues where there’s stress on couples in terms of finances.
“For people for living here this country is suffering under the recession too. Domestic abuse is on the increase as family relationships are suffering,” she says.
In Yonkers the recession has also seen a spike in crime and random assaults, with burglary becoming increasingly frequent. There’s no question that times are tough for both the documented and the undocumented.
“We can’t really encourage someone who doesn’t have legal status to come out here. They should investigate other options first,” Kelleher says.
“Right now we’re anticipating that most intending immigrants in Ireland will hold off making their decision until after Christmas now. A lot like to stay for Christmas.
“We’ve brought out a moving to New York guide on our website because we’re answering so many queries every week. It provides answers to people who are emigrating before they leave so they’ll know what to expect.”