Destination anywhere

Noel Baker finds the idea of riding out the recession in sunnier climes is steadily gaining momentum.

THE country might feel like it’s drinking in last chance saloon, and a new TV advertisement from Carlsberg chimes with the times.

The commercial depicts three workmen thatching a roof and pondering ways to ride out the recession. One jump-cut later, our heroes are using their skills at a Caribbean beach bar, knocking out thatched hula skirts and blowing the profits on pints of lager.

The idea of getting away from it all, at least until the economy recovers some of its old vigour, has rapidly gained currency in the depressed economic climate, but in a global credit crunch, where is a safe bet to visit?

Not only that, it seems everyone has the same idea. Earlier this month it was reported that a website seeking applications for “the best job in the world” crashed under the weight of visitor numbers, although it’s not hard to see why. The position of caretaker on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef entails a six-month stint during which time responsibilities include feeding the fish, cleaning the pool and collecting the mail. The eventual appointee will receive a salary package of AUD$150,000 (more than e74,000) for the six-month contract, which commences on July 1 next.

That might be a long shot, but plenty of Irish are open to the idea of riding out the recession overseas. The years of the Celtic Tiger bucked the trend of emigration so comprehensively that many believed those days were over for good, but that view may require a rethink.

The statistics up to April of last year indicate as much. In a table published by the Central Statistics Office, the preliminary emigration figure as of last April was 45,300. This represented a slight increase on the previous year, when the preliminary figure stood at 42,200, and was more than double the figure of 29,300 who left Ireland for elsewhere back in 2003.

However, statisticians are quick to point out that as there is no nationality breakdown in the emigration figure, the outward migration flow is unlikely to comprise only Irish nationals.

This is particularly true since 2004 and the general increase in migration flow thanks to the accession of countries such as Poland and Lithuania into the European Union. The CSO figures are based primarily on data collected for the Quarterly National Household Survey, and some other administrative sources, and the CSO said it hoped to include a nationality breakdown in future tables due to the heightened interest in migration flows.

That might tell us what some people already assume: that for the first time in a generation, Irish people are actively looking at living and working overseas, possibly only for a certain period of time and unlike their predecessors, maybe not forever — but it is back on the agenda.

Figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship earlier this month showed the number of Irish people who applied for Working Holiday Visas in the second half of last year increased by 52% compared with the same period in 2007.

A year in Australia has become a rite of passage for Irish 20-somethings, with the tight entry visa requirements ensuring a consistently high level of interest.

Those who piled in through the doors of the Down Under Expo last year were surveyed as to the possible length of their stay in Australia. Remarkably, almost 55% said they hoped to move to Australia permanently.

Stephen McLarnon is the organiser of the upcoming Working Abroad expo in Dublin and Cork later this month and the Down Under Expo, which returns for a fifth year, this September. He said there had been a change in recent years in the type of person applying to live in work in Australia. As recently as 2005 the majority of those travelling to Australia did so on working holiday visas, but last year approximately 70% were travelling as skilled migrants.

“Irish people will always travel,” he says. “They travelled in 2005 when things were going well, but they could not afford a house or pay for a creche so they moved for quality of life.

“Now people are moving for economic reasons and it is not a choice in some cases — they simply need a job.”

Organising a working holiday visa to Australia is almost as simple as paying your car tax online, and can be signed, sealed and delivered within 48 hours on websites such as www.visafirst.com or www.usit.ie.

Moving to Australia long term, and particularly for people over the age of 30, is a different proposition, with the Australian points-based system placing a particular emphasis on certain skill sets needed by the Australian economy, or incentivising jobs in specific states, such as the Northern Territory.

At the end of last year the Australian authorities also cut the number of professions sought from 82 to 52.

New Zealand is also growing in popularity as a destination, particularly its working holiday programme. Again, it has been proactive in seeking out people with skills that it currently requires. Much like Australia, New Zealand sees huge numbers of its own young population head off each year to travel the world and therefore needs to attract others to fill various positions. Its points-based system for longer term stays or residency is similar to that of Australia, although not quite as exacting. Also, fluctuations in the jobs market influences who is more likely to succeed with an application; for example, at a time when teachers here are concerned about their jobs, New Zealand is seeking teachers to come and work for them.

In addition, it is easier for Irish people who might be staying in Australia to apply to work in its Antipodean neighbour. Previously, the applicant had to return home and then apply, whereas now they can apply while in Australia.

This is what Sarah Griffin, from Castleknock in Dublin, has done. She is in Australia and along with her friends from Galway, Westmeath and Longford, she has secured a working visa for New Zealand.

A trained physiotherapist, she says she will be flying to Auckland shortly confident of securing a job.

“There is a shortage of physiotherapists in New Zealand and their skills are in demand,” she says, adding that her travel plans were influenced by factors closer to home.

“It is directly related to the lack of jobs for physiotherapists in Ireland and England at the moment,” she says.

While the Down Under Expo has been running for a number of years, the Working Abroad event, to be held in the Silversprings Hotel this March, is a first, with Mr McLarnon explaining that it was sparked by both growing interest in other countries from Irish people seeking to spend time overseas, and interest from possible destination countries.

The final line-up has not been decided, but countries such as Canada and Norway are likely to be involved.

According to Jackie Ellis, political officer at the Canadian Embassy in Dublin, there has been growing interest from Irish people in moving to the North American country.

“We have noticed a big increase in the number of inquiries we are getting here,” she said.

“There seems to be quite a lot [of people] going to Vancouver. A lot of people seem to go there on holidays first of all, maybe go up skiing, and then you find they will go over looking for work.”

Canada has strong traditional links with Ireland and its economy, relatively speaking, seems to be managing the economic crisis in a more accomplished manner than others.

The entry requirements are fairly stringent, but the process can be expedited by securing a job before travelling, or being sponsored by a company. In some cases, certain provinces will sponsor someone if they believe they need someone with certain skills.

All inquiries are dealt with by the Canadian High Commission in London.

Closer to home, countries such as Norway might not be seen as a traditional touching point, but as a country with considerable natural resources it has thus far avoided the worst elements of the economic meltdown which has caused massive uncertainty in other European countries, not least its Nordic neighbour Iceland.

Even further afield, places such as Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates have seen a growth in the number of Irish people travelling there for work. David O’Mahony, from Cork, spent eight months working in Abu Dhabi and recommends that anyone looking to work in the Middle East secures a job beforehand.

Visiting visas can be secured simply by arriving at the airport, although if you plan on working your company can help fast-track the process.

According to Mr O’Mahony, Abu Dhabi is “insulated from the recession, but is not recession-proof”.

There has been a relative downturn in construction there and banks have been affected by credit problems, but the lack of income tax makes it an attractive option for people wishing to save some money. That said, he has a few words of warning: rent is typically paid a year in advance, although this is changing, and while his rent during his stay was the equivalent of e16,000 a year, average rental prices have since increased.

Some time abroad need not be anchored around the promise of money. Those interested in spending time overseas can check the possibility of undertaking a volunteer programme with an aid agency, or through VSO Ireland, which is looking for people to commit to spending two years overseas on a variety of different projects (www.vso.ie).

Then again, there is also the possibility of answering the call to patriotic duty, and staying behind to make the most of things here. Anyone with a job is unlikely to quibble too much, and as anyone looking for a silver lining could point out, prices have fallen and there are fewer traffic jams on the roads. Now, if only the price of a pint would fall.


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