Like the many Irish migrants who arrived years before, Seamus Blake left his tiny coastal village in Ireland five weeks ago in search of greener pastures in Toronto.
No potato famine or decades-long political conflict drove him here.
Instead, a steady influx of young Irishmen and women like Blake, 24, is arriving here in desperate search of work, fleeing their country’s 14 per cent jobless rate, an after-effect of the 2008 global financial crisis and economic recession.
After spending a month at a backpackers’ hostel in Kensington Market, Blake moved into an apartment last week and, armed with a one-year work permit, started his job search. Hostel operators catering to young travellers in Toronto say as many as half of their residents over the past 18 months are visitors from Ireland looking to start a new life here.
Blake, 24, who graduated from Leeds University with a master’s degree in financial mathematics last year, arrived a year after his older brother David landed in Vancouver, also with a work permit.
“At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any jobs for new graduates in Ireland,” said a despondent Blake, a native of tiny Liscannor, on Ireland’s west coast. “From what I heard, Canada’s economy has already bounced back and it’s full of opportunities.”
Latest statistics show the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada from Ireland — the class most recent newcomers arrive under — jumped from 1,514 in 2004 to 2,604 in 2008. Community leaders say those figures don’t begin to reflect the recent surge in Irish arrivals.
According to the London-based National Economic and Social Research Institute, some 18,400 Irish nationals emigrated in the year ending April 2009, mostly to Commonwealth countries. The exodus is expected to last for at least two more years.
Karl Gardner, deputy head of the Embassy of Ireland, said Irish people have a long tradition of adventure and migration. While the island’s population stands at 4.5 million, there are an estimated 75 million people of Irish descent around the world, including 4.35 million in Canada.
“We have always travelled,” Gardner said from Ottawa. “The sense is it is something that we do.”
Eamonn O’Loghlin, executive director of the Ireland Canada Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, receives several emails and phone calls a week these days from his countrymen, some his “lost friends and relatives,” exploring prospects in Canada.
“I try to be realistic and tell people that the job market is tight here as well, but it is easier if you have the education, skills and network in business,” said O’Loghlin, who followed his Canadian wife, Madeleine, to Canada in 1975 and never left.
O’Loghlin has met at least 60 new arrivals in the last year helping them connect with his group’s 250 members in GTA. The trade group plans a Welcome to Canada Information Night on June 1 to offer tips about living in Canada, jobs and accommodation. It will start a Facebook group and an employment website later this month to assist new Irish migrants.
Sandra McEoghain, founder of the four-year-old Irish Association of Toronto, said many of her 345 members are recent arrivals ages 24 and 35 here on work permits.
“There’s advertising in Ireland about Canada and some people are falling for that. People realized Canadian banks did really well during the recession and think there have to be more opportunities here,” said the Toronto business system analyst, 38, who came as a skilled immigrant in 2002. “Some of them have to leave fast and it’s much quicker to get a work visa.”
But it is not easy to settle in a new country, even if you share the same language and similar heritage. Most report having problems finding affordable accommodation and jobs without Canadian references.
It took Brian Byrne five months to land a job at an engineering consulting company, after sending out dozens of resumes and doing survival jobs in drywalling and masonry.
Although Irish credentials are generally recognized here, the 33-year-old native from Kilkenny said he had to adapt to the Canadian resume style, pick up colloquial English and spend time building a professional network that ultimately led him to his present job. “It is a full-time job looking for jobs,” sighed the manufacturing engineer.
For Brian Keane, who has a university degree and 11 years’ experience in construction management, his “leap of faith” to leave home turned out to be one of the best decisions he’s made in his life.
“I have guilt for not feeling homesick,” joked the 35-year-old Dublin native, who came here in December after he lost his senior management job in early fall. “I really like the Canadian lifestyle and the people are so friendly, outgoing, welcoming and helpful.
“My advice for those who’d like to move to Canada is: Don’t think twice, but plan it!”
Like other new arrivals surveyed for this story, Keane said he can see himself staying in Canada for good.
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