Irish Voice intern Eoin Brennan is returning to Ireland because his J visa is up, and so are his options for staying legally here, at least for now.  But with jobs virtually non-existent in Ireland, he won’t be home for long, and laments the fact that strict U.S. visa laws prevent him from building a future here.

This week I will return to Ireland following my one year stay in New York, on the J-1 graduate visa, which allowed me to work in the U.S. for one year following my graduation from university in Ireland. I have spent the year working at the Irish Voice.

The past year has been an incredible one for me, with challenges and rewards greater than any I had encountered at home. I have faced low points here and moved past them to reach some of my best moments. I have learned in the way that New York City insists, quickly and intensely.

In my life I have lived in three different cities and countries, in seven different homes and in the past five years I have packed up my belongings and moved from one place to another 10 times.

I’m not exactly nomadic, but I’ve done my fair share of clearing out rooms and packing up suitcases in the last while.  It never bothers me though, and I’ve always enjoyed it in a way.

However, the moving was always done with a solid base beneath me; a community and place I called home, an indisputable fact which meant that any sort of temporary relocation carried no real sense of displacement. In my mind I was just moving around a bit, home would always be there and I’d always be back.

However, now that I face the prospect of returning to Dublin following my year in New York I feel that solid base getting unsteady underfoot, a fear of displacement growing rapidly within me. I am almost certain I will not reamin there for very long.

Although I have only been gone from Ireland for a little over a year, the place I remember as home has rapidly changed since I left.

The places and landmarks are all the same, albeit with a few more boarded up businesses dotting the landscape.

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However, the thing which makes a place home, and which makes me love Ireland and Dublin so much -- the community -- has suffered monumental blows to the point that I fear it may be almost unrecognisable to me upon my return.

In the past year several of my good friends have relocated to London, while many others have left for New Zealand or Australia. When I go home there will be very few left of the group which have been my closest friends for the past 15 to 20 years.
A few will remain, the few with good, stable employment or personal circumstance keeping them at home -- but they are in the vast minority.
In many ways, it hasn’t been a massive shock to our generation that we would have to leave.
Perhaps the thought was always there, buried deep in our subconscious. Our generation grew up with grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts who had all left for opportunites elsewhere in the past 50 years.
However, this time many had returned to Ireland to enjoy the new found wealth and prosperity we enjoyed. It is only in the past couple of years that the reality of mass emigration returned, and it was with this reality dawning that I chose to move to New York to find work.
The major advantage this generation of Irish emigrants holds over those who left our country in previous times of hardship is that we are coming from a time of unprecedented opportunity and wealth for Irish youth, a time when Ireland was truly a credible force in many worldwide fields.
While the excesses of the Celtic Tiger were eventually a big factor in our downfall, they are now also playing a key role in the opportunities available to those who have left Ireland in search of better opportunities elsewhere.
While the young men and women leaving Ireland in the 1970s and ‘80s were most likely to find unskilled and low paid work, many in the current wave have enjoyed the benefits of free college education in Ireland and training in various skilled industries.
If you left school in Ireland in the past 15 years you most likely had the opportunity to study at college and earn a degree or take up well paid training in a skilled field.  As we arrive in New York, London or Melbourne we won’t need to carry brick for a pittance -- we can instead find work in skilled industries.
We also carry with us a wealth of experience and inspiration from the past 20 years of Irish success, a reminder stored in our subconscious which we might use when battling the darker components of the Irish psyche, most notably our seemingly national sense of our own inferiority.
We have seen Irish men and women reach the pinnacle of their chosen fields, whether it is in technology, industry, art or sport. We don’t need to convince ourselves that we can be as good as anyone else, we’ve had it drilled into us for a long time. We see ourselves as assets now to wherever we choose to reside, as individuals who can be good for whatever place we choose to live in.
The result of all of this is that those of us now looking to leave Ireland to find work have many options. The world is more accessible and welcoming to us than to any previous generation of Irish emigrants.
However, the United States remains an almost impossible destination for many to reach legally.
Stringent visa requirements and extremely limited opportunity means that nearly all of those who want to relocate here will find their path blocked, and instead take their money, work ethic and talent elsewhere.

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Ultimately this is America’s loss, and someone else’s gain. There is a vast well of highly talented people in Ireland desperate to make a life for themselves in the U.S. but, faced with a nearly insurmountable visa wall, they will turn elsewhere.

They will enhance those nations, economically and culturally, while the majority of Irish who do make it to the U.S. will work in bars and on construction sites, their potential marginalized by their status as illegal immigrants.

I doubt the Irish in New York will ever fade away, visa barriers or not, but those who do make it over here will be shackled and restrained from their vast potential, unlike the Irish entrepreneurs of the 1980s who to this day continue to thrive in New York – but who also didn’t have to face the facts of life as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S, post-9/11.
It is said that Ireland’s greatest export is her people, a commodity which for so long had proved to be extrememly adaptable to new markets, tasks and environments.
Unburdened by Ireland’s complex history and institutionalised factors holding us back at home we often thrive in a new environment.
Yet, in the Celtic Tiger era we were staying at home, and emigration was a memory. Our highly skilled and driven workforce was bringing the jobs to Ireland, rather than chasing them across the globe.
Ireland became home to a collection of the world’s largest software and technology corporations. The days of long lines at the social welfare office and long goodbyes in Dublin Airport were now like a bleak preamble, a first act to set the scene for the long overdue good times.
Those good times were all too fleeting, gone seemingly as quickly as they arrived.
With unemployment expected to reach 14.5% in 2012 and tough austerity measures and further Euro zone instability to come, Ireland offers very little, beyond emotional attachment, to keep those in their early or mid-twenties at home.
The unemployment rate for men under the age of 25 in Ireland has risen to 45%, up from 10% just a few years ago. To describe the situation as bleak feels like underselling the depth of Ireland’s troubles.
What is worse still is that the difficulties may only yet be beginning. As heartbreaking as it is, Ireland is, for many of us, no longer the place to make a life.
With all of this in mind I expect my stay at home will be a short one, probably a few months. I hold out hope of a job, and visa, offer in New York, but it seems far more likely that I will join the large group of Irish in London and work to find myself a career there.
My year in New York has been incredible, and it is a year that I could never forget. From the biting blizzards of last winter to the intense, suffocating heat of the summer, and all of the moments of new discoveries and adventure which litter my memories of this great city.
From the brownstones of Brooklyn to the majesty of Yankee Stadium, from the spectacle of the Midtown Manhattan skyline at night to the brilliant chaos of Chinatown -- these are places and memories I will never let drift too far from my thoughts.
I will also never forget the bond between all of the Irish here. At home we are divided along county lines. Old rivalries die hard in many respects, but here we are all Irish immigrants, a fact which carries with it an unspoken respect for one another.
I will always have fond memories of my time here, and the people that I have met. I came to New York expecting a great city, but what I found was much more -- almost another world unlike any I had encountered before.
It is a place with a rich diversity and a sense of potential discoveries around every street corner. From my first days here, wandering around Midtown Manhattan like an overawed tourist, to my last days where I now, somewhat, know the inner workings of this great maze of people and places, it has been a constant journey of discovery, growth and excitement.
I hope that I can someday return, to build on the work I have started in the last year. Through hard work and perseverance I, like all of the other Irish who have come here, have carved a space for myself in New York, however small it may be.
I will board my flight on Thursday night hoping that someday I can return, and build on this to carve not just a space for myself, but a life.