Latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show that just 12,300, or one in six, of the 81,900 people who left the country in the 12 months to April this year was unemployed.
The rest were split mainly between the 28,900 who quit jobs to make a new start abroad and the 29,000 who were students immediately prior to their departure, suggesting they had given up on finding work here before they had even begun.
The number of new graduates leaving was higher than at any time in the previous six years, and almost half (47%) of everyone who left had a third-level education.
While returning emigrants and a net gain of new migrants to the country meant the overall loss due to the movement of people was kept to 21,400 — the lowest in six years — alarm has been expressed over the brain drain that group represents.
The most significant loss was among Irish nationals, of whom 40,700 left. Even taking into account returning emigrants, the net loss of Irish people was 29,200, or 80 a day.
Laura Harmon, president of the Union of Students of Ireland, said the figures showed graduates still faced major obstacles in trying to get on the career ladder.
“We know that youth unemployment is 26% so there really is a lack of job opportunities here,” said Ms Harmon. “Graduates have not seen any sort of recovery yet in the jobs market.
“There is also the fact that working conditions in Ireland for graduates need to be looked at in terms of how they are treated and their pay. USI have been very critical of the unpaid internship culture that has developed over the last few years. There is almost this expectation that graduates need to somehow graduate into the working world by doing unpaid work first. This is something that has to be looked at because this level of emigration is not good for the country and it’s not good for innovation. Graduates need incentives to stay,” she said.
The National Youth Council of Ireland also expressed concern at the high levels of youth emigration and called for the minister of state for the diaspora, Jimmy Deenhihan, to develop a strategy to facilitate return migration to Ireland.
NYCI research and policy officer Marie-Claire McAleer said: “There may be a reduction in the number of people leaving but in the year to April 2014, 81,900 people emigrated — many of whom are highly skilled and educated.
“This represents a brain drain and will inhibit our economic recovery. We need a pool of well-educated people to attract investment and stimulate and sustain economic growth.”
Half the immigrants to Ireland over the 12 months came from Europe, the lowest percentage since the economic collapse, while the numbers from Australia, Canada, and the US either fell or remained the same.
A significant rise was seen in the number of people coming from the rest of the world — 22,400 compared to a high of 14,100 in the previous five years.