NOT A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS – YET
Where can you find a table which ranks the USA third behind Brazil and India? Where is the largest community of Lithuanians outside Lithuania? In what country did 310,000 Poles register in the five years to May this year, twenty five times the number of the previous five years?
The April 2006 census in Ireland (the republic) was for many, an eye-opener. Not only did it show the population of four and a quarter million at its highest point for well over a century, but it revealed that a quarter million had not been born in Ireland, Britain or the USA. While the British remained the largest group of non-citizens (the same is still true of the Irish in Britain), there were now 63,000 Poles, 24,000 Lithuanians and 16,000 Nigerians.
Everyone had been aware that immigrants had been arriving since around the turn of the Millennium, particularly after May 2004, when Poland and other countries joined the European Union, but, until the census, the extent had not been grasped. The census also revealed that there were far more Africans (40,500) in Ireland than Irish Travellers (22,360) and that the number of Muslims in the republic (32,500) equalled the number of Presbyterians and Methodists combined!
And now? Getting an accurate handle on the numbers three years on is difficult. A census is a snap shot at a moment in time. In between there are annual census estimates, but these are just estimates. That for April 2008 showed a further increase in population to 4,422,000, indicating continued high levels of immigration. . A further census estimate is due to be published later this year and is awaited with interest. It is expected to show immigration slowing down , as the economy declines and may also indicate that many of the recent arrivals have left again. But large numbers have stayed and put down roots, while newcomers continue to arrive in considerable numbers. A sea-change is taking place in the ethnic make up of the island’s population, on a scale not seen for at least 400 years.
Estimates of immigration levels and the pace of arrivals are derived from a number of sources. Most important are the statistics for Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers issued, together with the records for work permits issued and the statistics on the numbers claiming political asylum. While there is overlapping and duplication and no way of counting those leaving the system, these figures between them provide a reasonably accurate picture of developments on the immigration front. They show Ireland evolving from a virtually homogenous society in 1990 to one today with a percentage of non-nationals among the highest in Europe.
Everyone, Irish and otherwise, requires a PPS number if wishing to deal with Irish government departments and public service providers. . It is unique to each individual and can be considered as the rough equivalent of a social security number. Children born in Ireland are now allocated one; new arrivals must apply, and, it would appear, most do, soon after arriving. Work permits are not required for citizens from other EU countries apart from Romania and Bulgaria, but are required for non-citizens coming from third countries, including the USA. Finally, Ireland, like other European countries has received its share of asylum applicants since the mid-nineties, mainly from desperately poor third world countries in Africa and elsewhere.
The main reason for the influx was, of course, the Celtic Tiger and the employment and prosperity it created. Economic migrants in earnest began to arrive from 1999 onwards, lured by a country with full employment in the throes of a boom. The number of work permits issued to third country nationals rose from 6000 in 1999 to 36,000 in 2001 and to 47,000 in 2003. After May 2004, with work permits no longer required from the new EU citizens, the numbers issued began to decline. Yet even in 2007 23,604 were issued, testimony to the continuing strength of the Irish economy. In 2008, as the economy imploded, 13,567 were issued.
May 1 2004, EU Enlargement day, was the watershed. . Most existing EU countries imposed temporary restrictions (for up to seven years) on the entry of workers from the ten new member states. Ireland did not. Perhaps the government, flush with economic success and aware of labour shortages, applied the argument that any restrictions had a sell-by date and were not worth the candle. The government however can hardly have anticipated the extent of the influx which followed.
In the five years to this May more than 450,000 PPS numbers were issued to citizens of six Central European countries alone, more than the number issued to Irish citizens. Most notably 310,000 were issued to Poles, together with 64,000 to Lithuanians, 38,000 to Slovaks and 32,000 to Latvians. While many of the early arrivals are assumed to have left again, and anecdotal evidence points to many of the Poles who worked in construction moving on, others continue to arrive. Despite the economic situation, Poles are continuing to arrive at 400 a week, the others at 250 a week.
The picture is far from complete with the 2004 Ten. There has been continued substantial inflows from Britain and indeed from other “older” EU states. In addition, 22,000 Romanians have registered since Romania joined the EU in 2007 adding to the 13,000 who had registered since 2000! 8000 US citizens have registered since 2007, considerably less than the nearly 12,000 Brazilians (arriving at 300 a month) or the10,000 Indians, but more than the Australians (4200), the Nigerians (3500), the Canadians (2400) and the South Africans (2500). Almost 6000 have registered from the island of Mauritius since 2005! Nor do these figures take into account those in the shadows, for Ireland has its own share of undocumented, whose numbers can only be guessed at.
Migrants of a different sort were asylum seekers, who arrived in considerable numbers after 1996, when 1179 applications were made. The annual number rose steadily before peaking at 11,634 in 2002. Most of the early applicants came from Nigeria, Romania and Moldova in that order. Asylum applications are now currently averaging roughly 4000 annually. While Nigeria still leads the way, significant numbers of claimants are now coming from Iraq, China Sudan and Pakistan. Many with children born in Ireland have been permitted to stay, and a factor in the decline in numbers applying, apart from a European-wide tightening up of controls on access, could be that children born to asylum seekers after 2004 do not qualify for automatic Irish citizenship.
Demographically and ethnically then, Ireland is changing. In 2006 there were over 52,000 non-Irish children under the age of 14, 6% of the total age group, with up to 30,000 of these non English speaking. Other countries have had to face the issues raised, and the problems posed, of assimilation, of integration, or of simply coping with new arrivals. Now it is Ireland’s turn. It was complained of mediaeval arrivals from England that in time they became “more Irish than the Irish themselves”. Could this happen again? The numbers then were minute. Could History be repeated with the current sizeable and diverse inflow?