What got me thinking was the latest report from the CSO on the Irish labour market and the statistics on non-Irish nationals entering the workforce (see Table A1). There was a recent furore in the UK over government data showing that more than half of all new jobs there had been taken by foreigners since 1997. In contrast, we are sanguine about the (CSO) fact that non-Irish nationals took 71.6% of new jobs created in the year to Q3 2007.
Intriguingly, the CSO admits that it really doesn't know how many non-Irish nationals are actually in the workforce at present, admitting that:
The nationality figures presented have been described as tentative as they have not been revised in line with the most recent Census of Population data. Initial analysis suggests that the QNHS under-estimates the foreign national population by approximately 20–25%.
Of course our sanguine response to such findings is simply a reflection of the fact that most Irish people see immigration as a relatively benign phenomenon in Ireland - with a few caveats about asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. In marked contrast, I recently heard the Maltese Minister for The Family & Social Solidarity (Dolores Cristina) talking about Malta's problems with illegal immigration from Africa. It made me realise that Ireland's 'problems' are in the ha'penny place by comparison.
Yet there is no doubt that attitudes towards immigrants (including legal migrants) is turning negative across Europe (including Ireland) - as highlighted in this week's Economist. I have written in a previous post about the negative consequences of a rapid increase in immigration on host communities.
A recent report by Eurostat values remittances abroad by immigrant workers in Ireland at €0.5 billion in 2006. €0.4 billion of this was intra-EU 27. That is money out of after tax income. So if you apply a multiple of, say, x6.6 to get total after tax income (assuming a 15% 'remittance or savings rate'); and then apply a multiple of, say, x1.45 to get gross income before tax, that gives total earnings for (we suspect) mainly Eastern Europeans and remitters from developing countries of nearly €5 billion last year. Though this is likely to be an underestimate as not all immigrants remit money (or save for that matter).
The point is that most immigrants in Ireland have come here because it is economically advantageous for them to do so. If their economic circumstances change - or better opportunities arise elsewhere or back home - then many will move. Those receiving the remittances may insist on it. So it is a brave man (or government minister) who trys to predict the future of immigration in Ireland: our own migration experiences of one-way tickets to America or Australia may not be much of a guide to the future in an age of €10 Ryanair tickets to Bratislava.