Inward migration today
Although we have always been more aware of people leaving, there have always been incomers to Ireland; Anglo-Normans came in the twelfth century, Scots and English in the seventeenth. European Huguenots and Palatines arrived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Wealthy Jewish people from Germany and Jewish refugees from the Russian Empire came here in the middle and latter part of the nineteenth century. Italian and Indian migrant communities developed in the early twentieth century. In the 1930s and 40ʼs the rise of European fascism led to the arrival of small numbers of people fleeing from anti-Semitism and political persecution. Small numbers of Vietnamese refugees came around 1980 and larger numbers of Chinese people migrated from Hong Kong around the same time to form what was, for a time, our largest minority-ethnic community.
People coming here now do so to widen their horizons, for education, better employment prospects and higher incomes, and also to improve their English language skills. A few come from many troubled countries seeking sanctuary, such as the recent refugees from Syria.
Why did numbers of incomers increase in the 2000s?
The Troubles and high unemployment contributed to high outward migration in the 1970s and 1980s. A declining birth rate led to a further reduction in the numbers of young people available for work. (The population of Belfast, for example, dropped from 400,000 in the middle of the twentieth century to 270,000 in 2006.) So, when violence reduced and the economy began to expand, there was a shortage of workers, and skills gaps also emerged.
Why do people choose Northern Ireland?
Most people just go where the jobs are. A large number are recruited by agencies and so do not make the initial choice of location. Others are attracted because friends or family members are having a positive experience here. Many new migrants say that they have chosen to come to part of the UK because they want to improve their English. People seeking sanctuary here are often in the hands of people who arrange their travel and may not know where they are going.
What countries are recent immigrants from?
In the early 2000s many people were recruited from the European Union, especially from Portugal and its former colonies. Many came to Mid-Ulster to work in the meat plants and food processing. Without them local firms would have had to consider moving production abroad.
Twelve new countries joined the EU in 2004 including Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This coincided with the post-Troubles economic expansion. So, in the mid to late 2000s, the majority of new people arriving here were from Central and Eastern Europe, with the greatest numbers from Poland and Lithuania. At this time unemployment in N Ireland was at an historic low. When Romania or Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, and Croatia joined in 2013, their nationals were barred from applying for most jobs, but they now have the same access to the labour market as other EU nationals.
It seems likely that EU nationals will be able to continue to live and work here after Brexit and they are being encouraged to apply for settled status now: www.gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families/applying-for-settled-status
The UK has long had a shortage of doctors, nurses and other health sector employees. Staff have been recruited from countries such as the Philippines, India and the continent of Africa, where people have the skills and knowledge of English. There has also been a need to attract people for highly skilled jobs such as IT. In order to recruit these highly skilled migrants from outside Europe, employers must advertise and demonstrate that they cannot fill the jobs locally in order to satisfy immigration rules. Non-European workers cannot apply to stay here indefinitely until they have lived here continuously for a period of five years.
How many new people have come here?
In June 2016 the NI Assembly Research and Information Service published a research paper: ‘International Migration in Northern Ireland: An Update’. The report estimated that around 175,000 long term international migrants arrived in Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2014. Of these, 143,000 left at some point and 32,000 remained. Between 2009 and 2013 more people left than arrived, due to the financial crisis and recession. More recently there has been a slight increase in arrivals. According to statistics published by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) in September 2018, 22,100 people came here to live in the year to mid-2017. 11,300 were international migrants and the rest were from other parts of the UK. 20,900 left to live elsewhere, leaving a net migration figure of 1,200. Those leaving will include local people and former immigrants returning home. The top three countries of origin of new arrivals in 2017 were the Republic of Ireland, Romania and Poland.