The above was the view from my desk last week in Abu Dhabi. Not too shabby at all, you might think, and you would be correct. This is pretty typical of the region and a familiar sight to many Irish ex-pats who now call the Middle East home.
Every year Irish professionals leave our shores for career opportunities abroad, some stay longer than others and many never return. This spiked during the years immediately following the Global Financial Crisis with over 46000 leaving the country in Q1 of 2012 alone. This tide has begun to turn and I now receive regular enquiries from Irish professionals considering a move home. Many just want a broad employment market overview for their sector and some are more targeted, looking for a specific role to return to. For me Christmas 2015 represented a watershed moment with a number of high profile companies launching a ‘bring them home’ campaign tempting those home for Christmas to consider moving back permanently.
This planted a seed in my mind. Last week, I took the opportunity to meet with a number of Irish ex-pats in Abu Dhabi to hear their take on life in the Middle East, their view of Ireland from 6000 KM away and the possibility of returning home.
The first thing that struck me when speaking to Irish ex-pats in Abu Dhabi is, life is good and they know it. With a population made up of 80% foreigners, Abu Dhabi embraces a relatively moderate cultural approach in comparison to other countries in the region. As well as a tax free salary, many receive an apartment or house, comprehensive medical insurance, regular flights home and some form of bonus. Generally the move is a calculated one with plans to buy a house and raise a family back in Ireland having created a small nest egg to kick start life back at home.
The resounding comment from every person I met was, “always one eye at home”. Historically, the Irish have always emigrated and will continue to do so. In previous generations the option to come home was reserved for the successful returning migrant who looked at retiring in the Emerald Isle as the final box to tick. Returning to Ireland is no longer something for retirement, there are genuine opportunities in Ireland again. Although they may be slow to realise, having turned a corner, this economy will be able to offer employment again to those who left.
Unfortunately, many do feel disillusioned. I sensed a feeling of mis-trust in government and media. To be honest, I don’t blame them, a significant number of the Irish community in UAE are Teachers and Nurses, some of the hardest hit by austerity in Ireland in recent years. What is being put out by the mainstream online media is taken with a pinch of salt. As the most easily accessed source of information on how things are at home, this is concerning.
As we begin to see genuine signs of the recovery in Ireland, those returning home are wondering how they will fit back in. Ireland is seen as a place to raise a family, there is stability and comfort of friends and family near by should anything ever happen. Timing is critical on an individual level, many are looking to return home before their own children get to school age so they can grow up in the normality of Ireland. Also, being away too long, was noted as a hurdle to overcome. As much as an individual may become institutionalised in the one company for too long, many ex-pats feel being out of the Irish market for an extended period of time may not help their search when returning home.
Having thought about what I heard during my trip, I have mixed feelings on how successful the ‘bring them home’ campaigns will be. Yes, Ireland is recovering, and yes, the jobs that disappeared are being created again. Both of these aspects are clear to see. I think the government and others driving this agenda need to be mindful not just of why people left in recent years, but also why people stay and continue to migrate to Ireland from Europe and further afield. Ultimately there are pros and cons to Ireland; we cannot compete on a financial level with many other locations, it rains here a lot and the health system is in disarray. Some things will never change. We need to promote Ireland as a good place for family and community, a place for innovation and a gateway to Europe, and most importantly a viable and long term sustainable economy.
Ireland needs to know its strengths, communicate them and play to them. That is the key to bringing them home.
I would like to thank those who took the time to meet me during my visit. In particular Brian Cummins from www.abudhabipaddy.com, Brian has created a fantastic resource for Irish coming into Abu Dhabi and is a pillar of that community.