New support network for expat Irish women

Irish women in Australia have found a new network of support through the work of one Dublin-born mother.

After a decade living in Australia, having made the move at 24, Sarah Whelan returned to Ireland for less than two years before deciding to journey back to Sydney, which she realised had become her home.

When the certified transitional life coach touched down she began to share her experiences of leaving and returning online, and expat Irish women flocked to her blog.

“People were really identifying with the things I was feeling,” Ms Whelan said.

“Women identified with the emotional impact…the guilt in leaving family behind.”

Irish Women Abroad founder Sarah Whelan aims to coach women through difficult transitions in their lives.

Irish Women Abroad founder Sarah Whelan aims to coach women through difficult transitions in their lives.

Ms Whelan was inspired to create Irish Women Abroad, an online support network to meet growing demand for answers and advice.

More than 3,000 network members, the majority of whom are Irish-Australian, provide everything from a shoulder to lean on to suggestions regarding every challenging aspect of emigration, from leaving relatives to transporting pets.

It was not long before the community moved off the internet and into the real world.

A recent Sydney meet-up was opened by the Irish Consulate in Sydney’s Vice Consul Rory Conaty, with the Consulate’s funding helping Ms Whelan - whose work with the network is voluntary - to organise events.

The Sydney Irish mission has provided support to Irish Women Abroad since its team members discovered Ms Whelan’s blog.

Sydney meet-up attendees enjoyed a reading from award-winning Irish poet Anne Casey.

Sydney meet-up attendees enjoyed a reading from award-winning Irish poet Anne Casey.

Award-winning Irish poet Anne Casey has recently joined the network after 25 years in Australia, saying she immediately saw the potential for members to bond over shared emigration experiences.

“It’s the empty chairs at birthday parties…it’s the call in the middle of the night when a family member has died.

“You don’t have to explain anything.”

The next meet-up will be held in Melbourne in November, and with an event already planned for returning expats in Ireland, there could be opportunities for further international expansion.

Ms Whelan hopes the “safe spaces” she has created continue to help women find their feet wherever they decide to resettle.

“My vision is for people to feel connected in their experiences…there’s no right or wrong way to feel.”

US visa appeal after Cork dad is detained

Relatives of an Irishman facing deportation from the US have launched an online appeal to fund a legal battle to secure his residency.

Keith Byrne, who has been married to a US citizen for 10 years, was detained last week as he made his way to work near his home on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

The incident comes amid President Donald Trump's latest crackdown on illegal immigrants in the US.

Mr Byrne, 37, from Fermoy in Co Cork, moved to the US in 2007. He married his wife Keren in 2009 and the couple have two children - Leona, 6, and Gabriel, 4. He is also stepfather to Mrs Byrne's 13-year-old son Ezra, his family said.

Keith Byrne with his wife Keren and children, Ezra, 13, Leona, 6 and Gabriel, 4.

Keith Byrne with his wife Keren and children, Ezra, 13, Leona, 6 and Gabriel, 4.

Mr Byrne originally travelled to the US on the Visa Waiver Programme but did not leave when his permitted time in the country expired. He has been attempting to secure citizenship for around 10 years.

It is understood those efforts have been complicated by two convictions related to cannabis possession when he was a younger man in Ireland, and he had been concerned about the prospect of deportation.

Mr Byrne, who has his own painting company, was on his way to work when he was arrested by officers from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday morning.

He is now facing deportation back to Ireland, potentially later this month.

A gofundme page set up by a cousin of the family, Jeff Snader, raised around US$19,000 of a US$50,000-target within 48 hours.

Mr Snader said: "In this great country we get a lot of things right. But there is nothing right with the deportation of Keith Byrne.

Keith Byrne is in custody awaiting deportation from the United States.

Keith Byrne is in custody awaiting deportation from the United States.

"He is a dedicated member of society, a tax paying entrepreneur, a loving father and stepfather of three children, a man of the household who cares deeply for his wife and a patriot of the United States of America."

A spokesman for the ICE said: "In 2007, Keith Byrne, 37, a citizen of Ireland, entered the United States as a non-immigrant under the Visa Waiver Programme and failed to depart the United States under the terms of his admission.

"ICE arrested him July 10 for immigration violations and issued him a visa waiver removal order. He is currently in ICE custody pending removal."


Emigrants should be primary focus of new diaspora policy

The Irish government is working on a new policy for the diaspora as the country seeks to expand and improve its global footprint and influence by 2025.

The Varadkar government is looking for ideas from the global Irish family to inform this new policy.

However, as a recent visit to Australia by the relevant minister Ciaran Cannon revealed, the government has yet to settle on a definition for the Irish diaspora.

If you’re a fifth generation Aussie of Irish heritage, you have a very different existential relationship with Ireland than the 28-year-old nurse from Mayo who arrived into Sydney airport this morning.

For the purposes of this exercise, it is crucial that the nurse, lets call her Aoife, is foremost in our thoughts and informs what we can observe about the recent experience of emigrants.

Why? Firstly, because she is an Irish citizen living and working abroad, hopefully by choice. In her head and her heart she will always be Irish, no matter where she lives.

Irish emigrants have a very different relationship with Ireland than those of more distant Irish heritage.

Irish emigrants have a very different relationship with Ireland than those of more distant Irish heritage.

For the fifth generation Aussie, lets call him Kevin (Rudd?), Ireland holds an abstract place in his cultural memory. But it will never be home.

The good news for Aoife is that all the evidence points to the fact that she will do very well here.

She will get a job almost immediately. When she goes to work, she will meet others just like her. Irish nurses, many of whom, sadly, believe that Ireland does not sufficiently value their skills to pay them, or offer them the working conditions, that they deserve.

That issue aside, Aoife will most likely get sponsored and begin a pathway to permanent residency in Australia, still something that is highly desired among young Irish immigrants.

She may join one of the Gaelic football or camogie clubs or try her hand at Aussie Rules which seems to be such a great fit for young Irish women. Either way, there will be no major cultural or ethnic obstacle to her integration into Australian life.

Coming to Australia from Ireland is such a well-trodden path now that people like Aoife slip almost immediately into the mainstream.

Aoife will become part of a migrant community which, the census tells us, is one of the most successful in Australia.

When individual earnings are compared by place of birth, the Irish appear right at the top of the list. We earn more than any other European migrants.

So Aoife has nothing to worry about then? Well, not exactly.

Returning emigrants, particularly those returning from beyond the European Union, often recount negative experiences when trying to reintegrate into Irish life.

Returning emigrants, particularly those returning from beyond the European Union, often recount negative experiences when trying to reintegrate into Irish life.

What if Aoife, like many of those who came before her, becomes inconsolably homesick? What if her elderly grandmother becomes seriously ill? Does she jump on a plane? Its such a long way. What if she herself has an accident? A car crash? An unplanned pregnancy? What if she overstays her visa?

The Irish in Australia confront similar challenges to other Irish emigrants, whether they be in Boston, Birmingham or Berlin. But the tyranny of distance, in my view, compounds the negative implications and makes our situation almost unique. Our remoteness also makes it more difficult for us to agitate for recognition, support and funding from Dublin.

I think there is an excellent case to be made for additional Irish government resources to be deployed here. For example, we have seen the clear benefits of having a consulate in Sydney and an honorary consulate in Perth. Both entities have enriched the experience of Irish emigrants in those cities, not to mention the broader benefit of promoting Irish interests – a key goal of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's Global Ireland 2025 strategy.

Melbourne and Brisbane, cities with very significant emigrant populations, not to mention their own cultural and historical links with Ireland as well as economic and commercial opportunities for Ireland, are still waiting for their consulates.

If people think this is asking too much, just look at Canada, a comparable nation, which has five honorary consuls to Australia’s one.

Similarly, Australia, despite being the number one destination for young Irish over the past 15 years, receives only a tiny proportion of the Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) budget, less than four per cent. More than 92 per cent of ESP funding in 2017 went to Britain, the US and Ireland itself. In per capita terms, emigrants in Australia receive less than one fifth of what their US equivalents get.

Ireland needs a policy that deals exclusively with emigration, emigrants and Irish-born citizens abroad.

Ireland needs a policy that deals exclusively with emigration, emigrants and Irish-born citizens abroad.

In terms of recognition, of the 100 Presidential Distinguished Service Medals which have been handed out to members of the diaspora by successive Irish presidents, only three have come to Australia.

Those issues aside, let me say that Irish emigrants to Australia do not, in my view, face unique obstacles beyond those which are confronted by any other immigrant to this country. The constantly shifting goalposts of the Australian immigration department may be infuriatingly complex, bureaucratic and expensive but that is not something which can be influenced from Dublin. Ireland can’t solve all of our problems.

But I think we would all welcome more open-ended government to government conversations about extending reciprocal privileges for Irish people here and Australian people there. Older migrants, for instance, may want to spend their later years in Ireland or expat families may want to bring their elderly relatives to live here. These choices need to be supported.

Similarly, it is now very difficult for the partners of Irish citizens to secure post-nuptial citizenship in Ireland. The rules surrounding this were changed only in the last 20 years and should, in my view, be revisited.

It has to be said that many of the most negative experiences that citizens abroad have confronted in recent years have come when they have returned to Ireland.

The negative response in elements of the Ireland-based media to the forthcoming referendum on voting rights for the Irish abroad in presidential elections mirrors the experience of many returning emigrants when they confront the dreaded Habitual Residency Condition when trying to reconnect to Irish life.

It seems to be particularly difficult for returning citizens who have been outside of the EU to complete simple tasks like enrolling their kids into school, applying for a homeloan, getting a drivers licence or securing car insurance. Similarly, the fact that young Irish citizens seeking to study at Irish universities are deemed to be foreign students is a problem that demands an imaginative response.

Just this week I received an email from a young Irish couple who in 2016, after five years in Australia, decided to make the big move back home.

Three months ago, they moved back to Australia.

The young mum said: “It really didn’t work out for us. They go on about how they want us back but they make things hard.”

It really didn’t work out for us. They go on about how they want us back but they make things hard.
— Returned Irish emigrant who has decided to emigrate again

So, in summary, Ireland does not need one new policy for the diaspora. It needs two.

One, a policy that deals exclusively with emigration, emigrants and Irish-born citizens abroad. It is written with someone like Aoife in mind. The experience of emigration (or even living and working abroad) sets people like Aoife apart from the broader diaspora. The goal of the policy should be ensure that Aoife has consular support nearby; that there is a well-funded safety net she can fall into and that should she decide to return home, she can do that seamlessly and with minimum fuss. She should be able to vote in all Irish elections for up to five years and her future husband, wife or life-partner should also be able to get Irish citizenship, just like her children will. Extending the voting franchise will also allow other emigrant issues to be given the political currency they deserve.

The second policy should be all about the children of Irish emigrants and their descendants. The goal should be to ensure that their cultural affinity is enhanced and their Hibernian heritage is celebrated but in a practical way that does not seek to patronise or shake

This can be achieved through increased investment in cultural programmes which support the globalisation of Irish culture. The French, through Alliance Française, and the British, through the British Council, have created successful models for just such activity. Irish music, dance, language and literature should provide more than enough content for real engagement for an Irish equivalent.

Ireland’s universities should be compelled (and funded) to participate. Done right, the policy will reinforce Ireland privileged position as a renowned centre of cultural creativitity and deliver flow-on benefits for business, tourism and the economy. If you build it, they will come.

Irish doctors fleeing Ireland for Australia in larger numbers

The number of doctors emigrating from Ireland to Australia increased from 22 in 2005-2006 to 221 in 2017-2018, a new report has found.

The number of doctors emigrating from Ireland to Australia increased from 22 in 2005-2006 to 221 in 2017-2018, a new report has found.

Australia is the primary beneficiary of a sustained exodus of Irish-trained doctors from Ireland, a new detailed study has found.

Doctors are continuing to emigrate from Ireland in high numbers and many are choosing Australia.

This is having a seriously damaging effect on the Irish health service, experts claim.

The study, called “Tracking the leavers: Towards a better understanding of doctor migration from Ireland to Australia 2008-2018”, found that even though overall Irish emigration numbers to Australia decreased as the Irish economy recovered, the number of doctors emigrating here has continued to increase year on year.

The report also points out that Ireland’s dependence on internationally trained doctors has increased from 13 per cent in 2000 to 42 per cent in 2017, and last year there were 500 vacant consultant posts nationwide.

The emigration of Irish-trained doctors to Australia is a subset of this larger migration from Ireland to Australia after 2008, the report says.

“It might be expected that doctor migration would follow the same patterns, i.e. peaking between 2011 and 2013 before returning to pre-2008 levels by 2014 as the Irish economy showed signs of improvement.

ALSO READ: Will changes to the skilled regional visa affect me?

“However, the number of Irish citizen doctors granted 457 visas increased in the period 2008-2012 and has continued to increase.

“In 2017-2018, a decade since the onset of recession in Ireland, 326 Irish citizen doctors were issued with working visas (temporary and permanent) for Australia, more than double the 153 issued in 2008-2009. This trend suggests that the migration of doctors is not primarily related to economic circumstances, which began to recover in 2013-2014, but perhaps to health system factors.”

The report, written by the Human Resources For Health group, also observed that early career Irish doctors are increasing attracted by offers of work and sponsorship for RMO/resident medical officer posts in the Australian health system.

“The number of doctors migrating from Ireland to Australia at this early career stage increased from 22 in 2005-2006 to 221 in 2017-2018,” the report found. “In 2017-2018, 221 of the Irish doctors granted 457 visas were early career stage doctors, while the remaining 86 were more senior.”

The chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s Consultants’ Committee, Clive Kilgallen, said cuts to wages during the recession have been a major factor in many doctors’ decision to move abroad.

“This is a systemic issue, in particular for consultants appointed after 2012, who could be working for up to €50,000 per year less than their colleagues who were appointed before 2012, and are doing the same job. This is grossly unfair and it is no wonder so many of them have turned their backs on [Ireland],” he told irishhealth.com.

The report also notes that in 2014, 684 Irish/EU doctors graduated in Ireland but 627 doctors emigrated from Ireland to countries such as Australia, the UK and the US.

“These figures are clearly unsustainable for our health service,” Dr Kilgallen said.

Read the full report here.

Will changes to regional skilled visa pathway affect me?

John McQuaid answers your immigration questions.

John McQuaid answers your immigration questions.

Hi John, I’m sponsored on a temporary 482 visa working for my employer in Dubbo western NSW. I’m eligible to be nominated for permanent residency in December this year but now I’ve heard the permanent 187 visa is being closed in November. Is this true? What can I do? Jarleth T

Dear Jarleth, Yes, in early April, Immigration announced a number of changes to the Regional Skilled visa program.

‘Regional’ for the most part means any area in Australia outside Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. As part of the changes the Regional Sponsored Migration Stream (RSMS) 187 visa path will close on November 16, 2019. However, there are transitional arrangements or exemptions for anyone who holds or applied for a 482 visa on or before March 20, 2019.

If the above dates apply to you, you will still be able to apply for the 187 visas after November. The exemptions will also apply to anyone who holds or applied for the old 457 visas on or before April 17, 2017. You could also consider whether you can meet the requirements to apply for the 187 earlier via the Direct Entry Stream. This option does not require you to have worked for the employer on the 482/457 visa but may require you to first obtain a migration skills assessment that can be expensive and time consuming to get. See https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/regional-sponsor-migration-scheme-187

The 186 Employer Nomination Scheme permanent visa may also be an option. This has different requirements for the employer and a small nomination application fee.

The new regional visa options will begin on November 16, 2019. Two new temporary visas are the 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored and the 491 Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa.

Both will offer a pathway to the new permanent 191 visa but only after three years on the temporary visa. The employer sponsorship process for the 494 visas will operate a bit like the current 482 visas but the 494 will be a five-year visa and all occupations will have a pathway to the permanent 191 visas. More occupations will be added but these are yet to be announced.

The points tested temporary 491 skilled visa will require nomination by a state government or a family relative living in a designated regional area.

Additional points will be available that might make the option more attractive in this competitive arena. Additional points include: 15 points for state or family sponsorship; 10 points for a skilled partner; 5 points for a partner with competent English, and 10 points for applicants without a partner.

Both these temporary visas will cost $3,755 for the primary applicant, the same fees as a current PR application, but then the 191 PR application three years later will be a mere $385.

Additional fees will apply for each family member: $1,875 for partners and $940 for children.

So, while the initial fees are high, the overall cost of the 494 to 191 visas compared to the current 482 to 187/186 visa will be much lower.

When the new visas start it is intended that any area excluding Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth will be designated as a regional area. Regional visa holders may live in any designated regional area and can move between designated regional areas. The myriad changes to visa rules this year are complex.

Consider asking a registered migration agent for help with assessment of your eligibility.

John McQuaid is an Irish-born registered migration agent. Send him your questions here.