Since 2008, around 250,000 people have left Ireland, and nearly 50 percent of them will never return, says emigration expert and UCC academic Piaras MacEinri.
Skyrocketing-rents and new restrictive mortgage deposit requirements are keeping Irish emigrants from returning home.
While Irish prime minister Enda Kenny is urging emigrants to come home, it will take more than an improved economy alone to lure the country’s “Lost Generation” back to Ireland, says MacEinri, author of the 2013 study Irish Emigration in an Age of Austerity.
Alan Barrett, an economist with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), says that the cost of living and the affordability of housing is a major factor for emigrants considering the return home.
Exorbitant rents and new mortgage lending rules that require first-time buyers to pay a 10 percent deposit on the first €220,000 of a mortgage and 20 percent thereafter, are major disincentives for emigrants currently living in countries where housing is easily affordable.
The housing shortage has made rents in Dublin among the most expensive in Europe, says Barrett.
"The reality is when it comes to migration, people tend to go to cities. But the housing and rental situation in Dublin is now a real worry," he says.
MacEinri says the government is not doing anything to attract emigrants back home.
"I'm not seeing any fiscal incentives that would attract people back," he told the Irish Independent.
While 129,200 Irish emigrants have returned home since 2009, last year saw the lowest ever number of returning emigrants, at 11,600.
MacEinri, who is the former director of the Irish Centre for Migration Studies at UCC, said while there will always be emigrants who return home despite the lack of opportunity or prosperity at home, more than a third and up to half of recent emigrants will probably remain abroad.
"This generation is doing much better overseas," he said."What we're looking at is very well educated, professional people who expect more."
Joe O'Brien, policy officer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin's Crosscare Migrant Project, says, "They compare their opportunities and lifestyles to what's here and it just doesn't match up.”
Minister of State for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, concedes there are obstacles for returning emigrants and challenges to reverse the drain.
"They're the people with education, drive and energy and it's very important to attract them back. Housing is a big issue but the biggest hurdle is the job market," he said.
"They have to have a job. People won't uproot if they're not guaranteed a sustainable job.”
However, Deenihan told the Independent, he is confident the first ever "comprehensive diaspora policy" in the history of Ireland ensures that the government will do whatever it can to lure emigrants back home.