Connect to share and comment

Wave of Irish emigration to Australia keeps growing

An increasing number of Irish are moving to Australia on the promise of jobs aplenty — again.

Sydney australia irish immigration 2012 3 20Enlarge
The Sydney Opera House is illuminated green on March 17, 2012 in Sydney, Australia to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

BRISBANE, Australia — Despite three very good reasons not to leave his homeland, Kevin Dwyer swapped the economic — and literal — gloom of Ireland for the sunny climes of Australia.

He said financial desperation forced him to part with his partner and two children last October, and travel for an indefinite period to a place where he believed the streets were lined with gold.

Dwyer is part of a modern wave of economic migrants driven from Europe — and from Ireland in particular — by rising rates of unemployment.

America still beckons with promises of high-paying jobs and opportunity, but Australia is growing rapidly as a destination of choice. In particular, an influx of Irish immigrants has arrived.

While not all Australians are welcoming them, most say the immigrants are a boon to the country — especially the Irish, many of whom have found a place in the work force aiding the construction boom.

More from GlobalPost: Tough times for Australian billionaires

The numbers are conflicting, as is often the case when illegal immigration is involved. But they speak for themselves.

According to official figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures reveal a 68 percent jump in the number of visas granted to Irish workers in the past year — 3095 arrived in 2011, up from 1840 during the corresponding period in 2010. That might not sound like a big number, but adjusting for population it's equivalent to about 45,000 immigrants in US — roughly the size America's fourth biggest immigration group, the Filippinos.

Others see a far bigger influx. A widely cited Economic and Social Research Institute study from 2010 found that 24,000 Irish emigrants had headed to Australia, oustripping those bound for the UK and the US.

Meanwhile, Europe's economic recession has well and truly seized the Celtic Tiger by the tail.

In 2011, Ireland's Central Statistics Office reported that emigration among Irish nationals increased sharply, reaching 76,400 in the year to April 2011, a growth of 11,100 (or 16.9 percent) on the year to April 2010. That means roughly 1,400 people leave Ireland's shores every week.

The Irish have been heading to Australia for centuries. Some Irish immigrants date back to the First Fleet that arrived in 1788 and the earliest convict transports of the late 1700s — a joint venture of sorts with the British. The potato famine of the 1840s and the corresponding Australian gold rush set off new wave of migration to Australia, for those who could afford the fare.

Australia's rapid growth creates demand for workers

The steady stream of Irish immigrants, any of whom arrive in Australia armed with advanced qualifications, is helping to fill yawning gaps in the work force, particularly in mining and construction industries which are in large part fueling Australia's prolonged economic boom.

The country just capped its 20th consecutive year of growth, and the West Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has forecast that it will need 500,000 extra workers by 2020. Based on recent trends, a shortfall of 150,000 Western Australian workers has been predicted by 2017.

The Irish Independent quoted Western Australia's employment minister Peter Collier as saying last year that his booming state was crying out for skilled workers. Cue the Irish immigrants.

"It's an economic powerhouse," Collier told a recruitment drive in Dublin last July. "With more than [$192 billion] of resource and infrastructure projects planned, Western Australia is on the cusp of a 25-year expansion, which will drive the nation's economy."

More from GlobalPost: The truth about asylum-seekers in Australia

Meanwhile, Rob Knight, Northern Territory Minister for Business and Employment, told a recent jobs fair in Dublin that his region of Australia had tens of thousands of jobs to fill and desperately needs skilled workers for the construction, mining and services industry there.

On the other side of the country in the "sunshine state" of Queensland, Des Ryan — owner of a Brisbane-based building company and president of the Irish Australian Support Association — said there was a big demand for Irish workers in the state's mining towns.

After Ireland's own building industry had been decimated in the economic downturn, leaving 300,000 new houses standing vacant, many highly skilled tradespeople joined surveyors, architects, civil engineers and other professionals in transferring their skills Down