|Timothy Meagher, associate professor, history, was quoted in a New York Times article about the recent trend in Americans moving to Ireland for jobs. See his comments in the story below.|
From: The New York Times Date: Oct. 20, 2006 Author: Nina BernsteinThe jobs fair that Ireland is holding tonight in Midtown Manhattan was envisioned as an invitation home to hard-pressed Irish immigrants living illegally in New York. Instead, to the surprise of organizers, it is mainly American citizens who have shown interest and seem eager for a new career and a new life in Ireland's booming economy.
Some, like Robert Aspland, 54, are disenchanted veterans of American business who see a better market in Ireland for their ideas and experience. Others are young and frustrated, like Patrick Cahalan, 26, a fourth-generation New Yorker with a degree in graphic design who is ready to chuck freelance work at stagnant wages to chase the kind of opportunity his distant Irish ancestors once sought in America.
"Their economy is on the way up, their education's on the way up," said Mr. Cahalan, who had just returned from his first trip to Ireland when he learned of the jobs fair, which begins at 5 p.m. today and runs through tomorrow afternoon at the Affinia Manhattan hotel on Seventh Avenue and 31st Street.
"The reports of economic growth in America may be true, but they usually don't include people like me," he added. "It seems like getting a full-time job with benefits that also pays a living wage is like a pipe dream here these days."
That kind of interest from American citizens is new to Gregory Craig, director of corporate affairs for FAS, the Irish national training and employment authority, which has organized the event and has run similar fairs from Sydney to Moscow, striving to fill the 60,000 skilled vacancies in its jobs bank.
But when Mr. Craig checked the immigration figures with his own foreign ministry, he said, he realized he was at the front line of a small but unmistakable trend: nearly three times more Americans moved to Ireland last year than Irish immigrated to the United States.
The numbers are tiny, though growing: 4,300 Americans immigrated to Ireland in 2005, and 5,000 are projected by the end of this year, Mr. Craig said. Only 1,700 Irish came to America in 2005, and the numbers are expected to dwindle.
That kind of twist on the past was worth a good laugh to Timothy J. Meagher, a historian of Irish-American immigration at Catholic University of America in Washington.
"It has a nice symmetry to it, doesn't it?" he said when he caught his breath. "It really is a historic pass. It's kind of mind-boggling."
For most of three centuries, Ireland hemorrhaged its population and served as the image of poverty and failure, he said. As recently as 1990, 23,000 people left Ireland, including some who re-greened old Irish neighborhoods in New York, Boston and Philadelphia but never gained legal status.
Some joined a return migration to now-prosperous Ireland, and those left behind without American citizenship seem like a natural audience for the job fair, which is described as having 6,500 "live jobs" of every kind, from posts in the financial sector and the stock exchange to work for painters, plumbers and decorators. In New York, illegal Irish immigrants face security crackdowns that make it harder for those without valid Social Security numbers to drive, work or plan a future in the United States.
But Mr. Craig worried that fear would keep some away. "Our undocumented have a problem with this show because they feel threatened," he said. "A lot of people are afraid that your Homeland Security people will be there."
Others dismissed the idea. "We don't buy into that at all, the threat of a swoop," said Adrian Flannelly, chairman of the Irish Radio Network in New York, who has served on an Irish government task force on returnees. "It would be highly inappropriate for the strong arm of the law to show up."
Just who will show up remains to be seen. But Mr. Craig, who has helped run similar events in Poland, Estonia and Latvia, said that e-mail messages in response to fliers and notices in the Irish-American press had come overwhelmingly from Americans, some with ancestral ties to Ireland, but many without.
"My view is these people are looking for a complete change of life," he said, listing some of Ireland's advantages as competitive pay, plentiful jobs, four months maternity leave, full health coverage and free education through college.
By law, preference is given to citizens of Europe, like the 120,000 Eastern Europeans now working in Ireland. But the jobs on offer at the fair have already been approved for others, he said, and the fair will provide information about visas and work permits for Americans.
Some, like Mr. Aspland, the veteran businessman, who has never been to Ireland, are eligible for dual citizenship through an Irish grandparent. His main interest, however, is parlaying his ties to China into international trade opportunities from Ireland.
"I'm one of those people who lost everything on the day of 9/11," he said, describing the abrupt end of a career putting together "road shows" for stock offerings and mergers and acquisitions. "Everybody I knew was either dead or also out of a job - they took all the jobs and sent them to India."
His mother, 89, told him that her mother, Mary Elizabeth Connery, would be spinning in her grave to think of him moving to Ireland, he said. His grandmother fled Irish poverty, worked as a domestic in Brooklyn, and died there at 83 in 1957, happy never to see Dungarvan County again.
But today, he said: "You need to look at being a global citizen. I love New York City, and it's the greatest city in the world, but it's something you have to consider, because I have no benefits. There's more opportunity in Ireland for someone with my background and my age."
At a reception for fair organizers last night in the Irish consul general's East Side penthouse, guests were plied with canapés of smoked salmon and stuffed mushrooms as officials emphasized that Americans brought the skills, language and comfort with diversity that suited the new Ireland.
"We're not offering people a favor," said Tony Killeen, Ireland's minister for labor affairs. "We need them."