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When the Penny Drops for Irish Abroad

Having lived abroad I can relate with some of those who have witnessed the enticement to return home. Due to the economic recovery taking place in a range of sectors in Ireland. Many of those who left during the recession are now viewing a return as an option. According to The Central Statistics Office, they have shown that there are more people returning now compared to previous years. The number of immigrants to Ireland in the year to April 2017 is estimated to have increased by 2.8% from 82,300 to 84,600, while the number of emigrants declined over the same period, from 66,200 to 64,800. These combined changes have resulted in net inward migration for Ireland in 2017, the highest level of net inward migration since 2008.

However, reintegrating to a country these people call home is not always a smooth experience and there are many obstacles that can make this process even more difficult. From adjusting socially and emotionally which can effect mental health issues, to car insurance and tax pressures that hit the pocket; there are an abundant of barriers that must be climbed for Ireland’s returning diaspora.

Immigration banner by
Immigration banner by Whatleydude (Flickr)

 There is concern and awareness that there are obstacles in the way for the much-needed injection of a returning workforce. Only recently, on the 07/03/2018 the Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciarán Cannon T.D., published a new Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants.

What about those abroad who did not plan on facing these obstacles? Who’s plans never imagined these barriers? We have heard multiple debates surrounding the “undocumented” or “illegal” in America, especially with the Trump administration focusing particularly on this issue, however not all sudden returns are down to illegal visa status.

On the 15th of March 2017 I was living in a seven bedroom house in Randwick, Sydney, planning what celebrations were going to be partaken in over the St. Patrick’s day weekend that lay ahead. Little did I know the news I was to receive the following morning. Driving out the M5 motorway to a construction job, texts and phone calls started to pour in with news that not only changed my celebrations that weekend but the course of my life.

With no immediate plans of returning to Ireland at the time, having spent four years becoming used to the Australian lifestyle my time for a resident visa was quickly approaching. Committing oneself to a particular company for two years, at the time, entitled you to apply for residency.

However, them two years were not going to be possible with the news received on that memorable drive to work. The Irish construction company that 200 plus workers had committed themselves to had gone bust, bang wallop “overnight” well “overnight” for the staff who had given their time and efforts. Once into the hands of receivership, it became known that this was much more than an overnight scenario. With this meant no residency and a 90-day curfew to leave the country or get tied down to another company to start the two-year process again.

Sydney Opera House by
Sydney Opera House by James Cridland (Flickr)

With this experience, I can relate to those who have had difficulties occurring that has changed their course of plan while living abroad. When living in a different country for a number of years life is in that location: work, community, friends, and most important structure. You are set up with house lease agreements, vehicles, and commitments. Ireland is on the calendar but not until December for a flying visit. The thought of leaving your new home for something that has not even been contemplated is very daunting for someone to come to grips with.

Speaking to The Circular are three previous expats Damien McCarty, Shane Duncan and another who we will call Tom for the purpose of this article.  All three have had similar scenarios were circumstances arose that accelerated their return home. Firstly, Damien McCarthy from Cork: Damien was enjoying the hot weather of Australia he was situated in Brisbane, Queensland since 2007. Having spent seven years become familiar with the area, working in construction with some time spent in the mines the idea of living in Ireland was not something on the mind at the time. Receiving sad news that his father had been diagnosed with cancer Damien quickly returned home.

“We never intended on moving home for good, I went home for a few months cause my dad got cancer, and after he died I decided to build the house cause the planning permission was running out. Still thinking we were going back after it was rented out, then my partner got pregnant so we moved into the house”

His time spent in Australia were days he will cherish forever as he says, “I loved the weather, money was brilliant and the craic was savage but home with the family just seemed to win us over.”

With a new family member on the way, the sense of security that comes with a family base is always a wise decision. As much as the lifestyle of sunny Queensland offers when the biggest change in life occurs the place of most comfort to new parents is always the most sensible. “We decided to stay for good when my son was born and to be honest for family support more than anything, it would be way tougher in Oz.”

Damien secured citizenship in 2015, meaning the door will always be open for him if he decides to return. When he looks back now on the decision that he and his partner made two years ago he “looks back with fond memories”. One thing that was a struggle for Damien when readjusting was car insurance, as he says, “it was a nightmare when we first got back”.

There have been many articles surrounding this issue, such as this one by The Irish Times.

Memories are something that we all hold very close to our hearts; as we go on we will continue storing the journey to our own personal gallery. What is it like though when a memory was never remembered as the last time you would experience it. For Shane Duncan who was living in Queens, New York his plans of staying in America for the foreseeable future had an unseeable turn.

Shane Duncan was working in office administration and enjoying his new locality, having moved to New York from Kerry on a graduate visa in August 2015. Playing GAA and meeting cousins that he had not previously known, life was beginning to take shape in The Big Apple. “Life was set up there, to be honest, I met so many people through work and GAA, I made friends for life out there.”

Shane explains the visa system in America for me, “When my year-long graduate visa was coming to an end I applied for a B2 bridging visa, the way the system works out there is you can only apply for certain visas at certain times. The visa I was on would not take me up to the date that I could apply for a H-1B sponsorship visa so I had to apply for another bridging visa again.”

From living abroad I have come to understand the importance of visas and how vital they are to secure. It is not until one leaves their country of residence that they realise how much they take free travel throughout Europe for granted. As Shanes’ visa route continues it becomes a long and winding road and the finish line becomes more blurred. After being on two bridging visas his luck changed as his sponsorship visa was picked from a lottery, of an average of one in every four wins. This was great news as the process ‘should’ now have been plain sailing.

“We were so happy, we couldn’t stop laughing, we rang all our family and went out celebrating in Staten Island.”

With still no definite confirmation on the visa status and with the bridging visa running out Shane returned home to await the good news. He had been told he would hear back in around four weeks and would be back out within six weeks. Coming home with one suitcase, leaving his car and apartment in place, with the intentions of being back in a few weeks. Shane arrived home to Kerry with the thoughts of a nice break at home, before going back out to his new life with a three-year sponsorship visa, all was not to be the case. With weeks turning into months and paying for rent in New York Shane picked up work at home, “I knew something wasn’t right, it never usually took this long”. After six months went by he was eventually informed that his visa application had been denied.

“Everyone I’ve been talking to that was in the same boat as me has been denied, Trump waited for ages and then denied the lot.”

New York City - Black and White by
New York City – Black and White by John St John (Flickr)

With the experience of far away, pastures being unexpectedly halted Shane was not ready to settle in Kerry just yet. Two weeks after he heard the news of his American future he booked flights to Australia and arrived there in February 2018. When asked how he feels about the whole situation looking back on it, he says, “It had its ups and downs, it was a great experience living in New York but by abiding by the visa restrictions I couldn’t come home for my Grandmother’s funeral when I was on the bridging visa.” After just lately touching down in Sydney he must discover has the land of opportunity moved from Wall St. to Bondi Beach, “If the power was in my hands I would be gone back but I am happy out in Australia for now, I’ll definitely be going back to New York for holidays.”

With the three unfortunate situations that have been detailed above the similarity they all share is that they were unpredictable, surprising and at the very core, not self-inflicted. This is how Tom’s  story differs. There is no denying that there are thousands of illegal immigrants of all nationalities spread all over the globe. Apart from Guinness, Tayto, and Bono another one of our popular traits is our integrating into other countries. From time to time you will come across those who have just fallen in love with their new found home so much, the temptation to stay just that “little while longer” becomes reality.

Tom arrived in Sydney from Cork on Halloween night 2011, a haunting arrival that would finish up with a haunted ending. Working as a carpenter life was going well for Tom as he says, “The weather was great, the weekends were even better and I met so many people.” Working conditions for Tom were more secretive than your everyday employee as he was after overstaying his visa by three months. There were intentions to go home eventually as he was to be Godfather at his friends child’s christening, but he wanted to stay a “little while longer” he says.

In February 2013 Tom and his friends were off work one day, “we were watching a series and then decided to out for a hot chicken roll”. While walking down the main street in Coogee, Tom and two of his friends were approached by undercover police who asked them for their I.D. The trip for a chicken roll would turn out to have a twist of faith no one expected when leaving the house. When Tom’s identification was checked it appeared that there had been traffic penalties in his name from when he had done his regional farm work, in the outback.

Passport Visa by
Passport Visa by Air Force One (Flickr)

Being taken to Maroubra Police Station for further investigation; after going through fines and court dates he was allowed leave the station once bail of a thousand dollars was paid. “They didn’t notice anything about my visa, they only seemed bothered about the fines.” The following day Tom had to go back to the station to sign on for his bail conditions, it wasn’t going to be an expected signature appearance. “They handcuffed me and told me to step into the backroom, I didn’t know what was going on but I had a fair idea they were after finding out.” Immigration officers and the police then took Tom out to Villawood Detention Centre. Tom had been working nearby the detention centre so he knew where it was and where he was going. “I wasn’t told anything just that someone would be contacting me on the Monday” this was Saturday.

With a week stay in the dentition centre friends were able to call to him during the day and he would get informed on how the procedure was coming along. What might come as a surprise to some readers, he was permitted back out for two weeks to arrange his belongings, once he had a flight to Ireland booked. “We went out for some great nights in them two weeks since I knew it was going to be my last time there for awhile.”

Sticking to his word he returned on the arranged flight with a three-year entry ban to Australia. When asked did he regret his choice of overstaying and how he felt about leaving in them circumstances “To be honest I do regret overstaying the visa, but looking back now if I had to put down that week again for the life I have now I would do it again.”

As many optimistic statements begin with ‘When life gives you lemons’ but when life throws you from one country into another you really do need to make some good lemonade: Damien has started a family, Shane has swapped New York for beachside Oz, Tom is much happier in Dublin and I didn’t expect to be even writing this article. What can happen in the blink of an eye, when that penny does drop can be a change of course, that was destined.


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One Response

  1. You raise an excellent point here! This informative article has captured my attention. So many things have been mentioned here that I had never considered before. You’ve shown me that there’s more than one way to look at these issues. It is clear. Thank you once again.

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