Skip to main content

Immigrants Play Vital Economic Role, Even in Slump

Resource type: News | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Donal O’Donovan 

Inward migration of workers remains crucial for Ireland’s economy regardless of the current downturn, according to new research.

The research by economist Jim Power for the Integration Centre, a charity supported by Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation, is the first major report into the changing face of the Irish workforce.

A regime that facilitates skilled workers joining the Irish workforce is crucial in attracting hi-tech multi-national employers in particular, according to the ‘Migrants and the Irish Economy’ report published today.

Ongoing skill shortages in the areas of languages and technology in particular mean migrants continue to form the cornerstone of the multi-national sector, it found.

“Without a liberal visa regime, no multinationals would base themselves in Ireland,” according to the Integration Centre’s Killian Forde, who commissioned the work.

He said the findings fly in the face of a widespread belief that inward migration was an economic asset during the boom, but became a burden following the crash.

Non-Irish workers make up around 12pc of the working population, down from a peak of 16pc in 2007 and 2008.

The proportion of foreign workers had doubled between 2004 and 2008.

Within the foreign-born cohort, Polish, followed by British citizens, made up the biggest elements of the workforce.

Workers from outside the European Union, including African and Asia immigrants, make up just 11pc of the foreign-born workforce, however, they are more likely to have a degree than native employees or migrants from inside the EU, according to the research.

That reflects the tougher visa restrictions on non-EU citizens, who do not have automatic rights to work in this country. But migrant workers are active across all sectors of the economy, and at every level, the report found.

Foreign-born workers are most heavily represented in lower-paid service and low-level administrative jobs, in some segments making up as much as a third of the workforce.

Foreign-born workers are also more likely to be unemployed, reflecting to some extent the heavy concentration in the construction sector as many arrived between 2004 and 2008.

However, migrant workers are also heavily represented in highly skilled sectors like medicine, scientific professions and engineering, according to the research.

They are relatively under-represented in traditional white-collar jobs including teaching and higher administrative work, as well as the traditional construction trades and policing.

There are relatively few foreign people working in the media or as managers and company directors, according to the report.

Jim Power says the Irish economy could be missing out on potential entrepreneurs, because immigrants are less likely to set up their own business than native workers.

That is in contrast to most well-off countries, where migrants tend to make up a disproportionate share of company founders and owners.

That’s the case in the US, the UK, France and Denmark, for example, but not so in Spain and Italy.

That could mean Ireland is missing out on the potential trade that immigrant entrepreneurs have the potential to establish and reinforce with their countries of origin, according to the report.

The Integration Centre is an Atlantic grantee.