The number of people swapping the UK for Ireland – which has been steadily increasing since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 – has dropped slightly for the first time in years, according to newly released official figures.
And, despite Ireland’s booming economy, the numbers of Irish people moving to Britain has increased, according to the country’s Central Statistics Office (CSO).
Newly released CSO figures say the number of immigrants arriving in Ireland from the UK decreased by 400 people to 19,700 in the 12 months to April 2019.
The number of people emigrating from Ireland to the UK increased by 200 people to 11,600 during the same period.
Almost 53 per cent of people leaving the country are Irish nationals.
Professor Louise Ryan, a world-renowned researcher in the area of migration at the University of Sheffield, told the Irish World that changes in Irish migration patterns mean fewer Irish emigrants are choosing the UK.
“In the olden days, everybody went to Britain,” she said. “There’s now much more diverse patterns of movement out of Ireland.”
Professor Ryan said that despite certain received wisdom that Brexit has caused people to leave Britain to move to Ireland to stay in the EU, CSO data shows no “obvious change” compared to previous years.
British migration to Ireland has taken place in large numbers for generations, she said, calling it a “hidden migration” that is further complicated by the long history of the UK’s long history of Irish emigration.
“There has been a lot of publicity about the Poles, or the numbers of Nigerians, coming to Ireland. There is almost never any discussion about the numbers of people arriving from Britain,” Professor Ryan said.
“We know that this figure is hazy since it may include many second-generation Irish people who may possibly be counted as UK citizens moving to Ireland, whereas they would see it more as returning to their ancestral homeland.”
The CSO figures reveal a return to net outward migration in Ireland, in which emigrants once more exceed immigrants, after a brief reversal last year in which the numbers moving to Ireland marginally exceeded those leaving the country.
The number of people leaving the country remains the lowest since 2008 and is 34 per cent lower than in 2012, the worst year for emigration when 83,000 people left the country.
Foreign nationals constitute the largest cohort of people moving to Ireland, with the percentage of Irish returning to Ireland dropping slightly, says the CSO.
Ireland’s population was just over 4.9 million in April, its highest recorded level since just after The Famine in 1851.
This is largely because of the high numbers of non-Irish foreign nationals choosing Ireland.
According to Professor Ryan, the CSO figures illustrate just how diverse and far-flung migration into Ireland has become.
“In the past, Ireland tended to see itself as a very homogenous society but it did have large numbers of English migrants,” she said.
“Now, we still have significant numbers of English migrants but they’re mingling with people who are arriving in Ireland from all over the world.”
Professor Ryan said there is very little evidence of large numbers of employees moving abroad because of Brexit, questioning whether those businesses who have announced they are relocating to Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe, have yet moved any workers.
Professor Ryan, a member of the editorial board of International Migration, said that from the many research groups of which she is part it had become clear to her that while many EU migrants are rushing to get their settled status – and numbers applying for British citizenship has increased significantly – many of them are adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach because of Brexit uncertainty.
“People (have) so much information thrown at them by different sides of the debate through the media that they’re bamboozled,” she said.
“They don’t know if [Brexit] will trigger an economic recession, or is going to be relatively seamless, and people just don’t know.”
The UK’s own Office for National Statistics shows that net migration from the EU to Britain slumped to a six-year low.
Numerous sectors of the economy – science, legal, academia, the NHS – have been hit hard by prolonged Brexit stasis.
In the year after the referendum, over 17,000 Britons sought citizenship of another EU country, according to figures collated from embassies by The Guardian.
Although reluctant to speculate about migration patterns when everything remains so politically unstable, Professor Ryan nevertheless said there could be a surge in migration from the UK during the year after it does finally break from the EU.
“That’s when we may really see how people are acting out their responses to Brexit; by leaving, moving home,” she said.
“People may not wake up on the 1st November and think, ‘Oh my God, the world is collapsing’. It may be a slow process whereby, gradually, people begin to see the impact of Brexit affecting their jobs, income, supermarket prices, property values – all of these things may take some time to reveal.”
Observing application numbers for citizenship could be key in spotting shifting trends, Ryan added.
Other indicators of Brexiles pouring into Ireland, from an Irish perspective, are: Irish people returning, UK residents arriving, and EU citizens arriving in greater numbers.
She said more data and research is needed to be able to say precisely why people are both leaving from and arriving in Ireland.
“There will be stories there, and it’s important that we have more research to understand and flesh out the nature of these particular stories.”
By Colin Gannon