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Cablegate: Ireland Facing New Immigration and Integration

DE RUEHDL #0876/01 3341224
R 301224Z NOV 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) The surge in immigration to Ireland during the past
decade has presented the Republic with economic opportunities
as well as social challenges. Foreign nationals now
constitute upwards of 15 percent of Ireland's inhabitants,
compared to 10 percent in the U.S. Ireland has used the
immigration of predominantly young, highly-educated workers
to fuel its "Celtic Tiger" economic boom and most economists
predict future economic growth will depend on continued
inward migration. Despite past success, government officials
are facing new challenges that are forcing them to update
immigration and integration policies amid strained public
services, new immigrant-concentrated neighborhoods, and
slowing economic conditions. Critical of the faltering
British and French models of multiculturalism and
assimilation, Irish officials are keen to forge a third way
which, if successful, could provide Europe with a new model
for integration. Ireland's ability to manage its
ethnically-diverse population will be of key interest in
Europe where in some countries immigration debates have take
on an increasingly anxious tone and anti-immigrant political
platforms seem to be gaining popularity. End summary.

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2. (U) Ireland took in an estimated 87,000 immigrants between
April 2005 and April 2006, according to Ireland's Central
Statistics Office (CSO), representing the highest figure
recorded since the CSO began tracking migration to Ireland in
1987. Nearly half--43 percent--came from the Central and
Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004, including
24 percent from Poland alone. (Note: Ireland was one of the
few EU countries that opened its borders to workers from the
new EU member states in 2004. End note.) Eighteen percent
of immigrants came from the UK, 12 percent from the rest of
the EU, and 27 percent from the rest of the world. According
to Ireland's 2006 census, 420,000 foreign nationals currently
live in Ireland, or 10 percent of the total population.
However, Conor Lenihan, Minister of State for Immigration and
Integration, has stated publicly that he believes the census
"seriously underestimated" the number of foreign nationals
and the non-Irish population could be between 13 and 15
percent of the population.

3. (U) Ireland's immigrant pool is generally young and well
educated. More than half, or 54 percent, of foreign
nationals are between the ages of 25 and 44, and slightly
more than 30 percent have third-level degrees. Research
conducted by the Dublin-based Economic and Social Research
Institute (ESRI) found that while the most recent immigrants
from the Central and Eastern EU states have a lower level of
educational attainment compared to immigrants who came to
Ireland in the late 1990s, their educational level is still
generally higher than that of the native Irish population.

--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (U) Numerous studies have shown that immigration has made
Ireland richer by creating a virtuous cycle whereby increased
economic prosperity combined with an open immigration policy
has attracted foreign workers who in turn helped fuel the
Celtic Tiger economic boom. Since the mid-1990s the
predominantly well-educated immigrant pool increased
competition in the high-skill labor market which suppressed
wage growth and increased Ireland's competitiveness.
Immigration continues to be the key force behind Ireland's
labor market with 72 percent of the annual increase in
employment accounted for by non-Irish nationals, according to
the CSO. However, the shift to predominantly non-English
speaking immigrants since 2000 has resulted in most of the
recent immigrants taking jobs that are not commensurate with
their education level and subsequently earning substantially
less than similarly-qualified Irish workers. Minister
Lenihan told the IEA that at least 10 percent of immigrants
are overqualified for the jobs they currently hold.

5. (U) While lack of English language skills is the key
reason for the skills mismatch, non-recognition of
qualifications is another factor. ESRI research shows that
recent immigrants are less likely than previous migrants to
be working in managerial, professional, or associate
professional occupations. Foreign nationals compose nearly

DUBLIN 00000876 002 OF 004

30 percent of all hotel and restaurant employees, 14 percent
of workers in other production facilities, and 13 percent of
construction workers, according to the Irish Government's
most recent statistics. The disparity between skills and
employment has reduced the net benefit of immigration to the
Irish economy and increased earnings inequality by driving
down low-skill wage levels.

--------------------------------------------- -

6. (U) In contrast to the growing number of migrant workers,
applications for asylum in Ireland fell in 2006 for the fifth
straight year, according to the UN Commissioner for Refugees.
Ireland received just over 4,300 applications, or less than
2 percent of all those seeking asylum in industrialized
countries. Asylum migrants make up only 4 percent of
Ireland's immigrant pool.

7. (U) At a public address at the Dublin-based Institute of
European Affairs (IEA) in November, Minister Lenihan credited
the decline to tighter government policies implemented after
a surge in asylum seekers to Ireland in 1999 and 2000 when
the Republic received 8,000 applicants annually. Ireland
accepts only 10 percent of asylum applicants and, according
to Minister Lenihan, the government's policy is successful in
countering the fraud that permeates asylum applications.

8. (U) Recent government actions to further close loopholes
indicate that the number of asylum seekers may continue to
decline. Since 2000 most political refugees in Ireland have
come from Nigeria and Romania. However, the Irish Government
in January announced it would no longer permit citizens from
other EU states to apply for refugee status. The move was
intended to prevent Romanian immigrants, whose intent is to
find a job rather than escape persecution, from settling in
Ireland and using the social services available to asylum


9. (U) Jim Power, a leading Irish economist, told econoffs in
November that all future economic growth in Ireland requires
inward migration, as Ireland currently is fully employed.
This view is supported by the latest OECD report which
concluded that despite Ireland's population surge, there is
still room to increase the labor supply. Ireland's National
Training and Employment Authority estimates that the Republic
will need 500,000 more migrant workers during the next
decade. Minister Lenihan stated at the IEA in November that
Ireland must look on its immigrants as a "huge opportunity,"
and work to move the current underemployed migrants to
appropriately skilled areas in order to increase Ireland's

10. (U) There is still much debate in Ireland concerning the
impact of a slowing economy on immigrant employment,
according to Power, who noted it is still too early to tell
if they will be re-employed, unemployed, or leave. Some
Irish press reports have suggested that an economic downturn
will produce increased competition for jobs, fueling tensions
between native and immigrant populations. However, the
recent slowdown in Ireland's construction industry indicates
that the EU labor market may be flexible enough to mitigate
pressures if an economic slowdown is not EU-wide. Irish
government officials report that layoffs this year in
Ireland's construction sector were not accompanied by a
commensurate upturn in unemployment, suggesting that many of
the immigrant workers in that sector from EU member states
simply returned home to take advantage of Central Europe's
burgeoning economies or emigrated elsewhere in the EU.
(Comment: However, emigration elsewhere in the EU is not an
easy option for immigrants from non-EU nations, such as
Nigeria, China, or the Philippines. In the event of an
economic recession and an increase in unemployment, such
visible immigrants could the targets of social frustration.
End comment.)

11. (U) Irish officials suggest, instead, a key problem in
the coming years will be retaining skilled workers. Minister
Lenihan reported that Ireland has already seen a number of
the nurses recruited from the Philippines five years ago
"poached" by Canada. CSO data shows just 30 percent of
Central European workers who immigrated since 2004 remain in

DUBLIN 00000876 003 OF 004


12. (U) Foreign workers have largely been absorbed into Irish
society with limited friction during the last decade. A 2006
report from ESRI found that the incidence of racism in
Ireland was lower than in other European countries and
surveys of Irish public opinion indicate that, although there
are some mixed feelings on immigration, there has been
relatively little evidence of a negative attitude. The
success of integration to date is probably due to a
combination of historical, ethnic and economic factors unique
to Ireland. Irish was the most common ethnicity of
immigrants from 1995 to 2000, as many emigrants returned home
to profit from the early days of Ireland's economic boom.
Ireland's current immigrant pool still is predominantly
European, educated, and Predominantly (50 percent) Catholic.
Moreover, Irish emigrants' own experience with racism may
have tempered local attitudes toward new arrivals. A strong
economy, consistently low unemployment, and high per capita
wealth have also probably mitigated a backlash against new
non-Irish workers. Moreover, government policies allowing
noncitizens to vote in local elections and join the police
force has helped reduce the marginalization of immigrants.

13. (U) In response to the rapidly emerging issue of
immigration, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration (led
by Minister of State Conor Lenihan) was newly created by
Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Bertie Ahern following the May
2007 election. During a meeting with the Ambassador on
October 9, Lenihan said that he expects to take about a year
to clearly define the role of the new Ministry and get up
fully up and running. (Comment: The Taoiseach is said to
have more than a passing interest in immigration policy.
Reportedly, 52 percent of his North Dublin constituency is
comprised of immigrants. End comment.)

--------------------------------------------- --------

14. (U) The growing proportion of immigrants relative to the
native population and the changing and more diverse ethnic
background of newcomers, however, will likely make
integration more difficult in the future. CSO data shows
that in 2001 returning Irish still composed 44 percent of
immigrants, but by 2006 they composed only 23 percent. While
the largest portion of non-Irish immigrants has come from the
new EU member states, prior to 2004 ethnic Chinese comprised
the largest non-Irish group of immigrants and remain a
sizable number today (with estimates of up to 90,000).
Moreover, there is evidence "ghettos" are emerging in and
around Dublin dominated by immigrants. Irish press reports
indicate that in some urban districts the number of
immigrants has risen 120 percent in the last year and in some
primary schools in Dublin 50 percent of the students are from
non-Irish backgrounds.

15. (U) Minister Lenihan has called the emergence of
immigrant-concentrated neighborhoods Ireland's biggest
integration problem and characterized them as a by-product of
the lack of affordable housing. He said in November that he
believed both Britain's multicultural and France's
assimilation models of integration had failed, producing
parallel societies, and Ireland's objective now is to learn
from, and not repeat, their experiences. He noted the first
steps of his integration plan are to provide immigrants with
English language skills and implement a better housing policy.


16. (U) Ireland's infrastructure and social services have
come under severe pressure due to the extraordinary growth in
population and economic activity during the past decade. The
total population in Ireland increased 16 percent from 1997 to
2006--the second highest rate of increase in the EU after
Cyprus. However, studies show that while immigration is
straining Ireland's already stressed services, it is not the
sole source of the problem. A report by ESRI last year found
that immigrant workers were only half as likely to avail of
social welfare services as native Irish workers, with the
demographic composition of immigrants tempering the amount of
services required. According to the CSO, just 10 percent of
immigrants entering Ireland are school age children under the
age of 15 and just one percent are 65 or older.

DUBLIN 00000876 004 OF 004

17. (U) The Government has undertaken measures to mitigate
the impact of immigration on services. Prior to the
accession of the EU states in 2004, Ireland introduced
restrictions to prevent "welfare tourism," requiring
immigrants to be habitually resident to receive most forms of
social assistance. (Comment: Anecdotal evidence indicates
that, because of cheap airfares, some foreign born welfare
recipients live in other European countries and fly into
Ireland each month to collect their welfare checks. End

--------------------------------------------- ---------

18. (U) Irish officials are rapidly moving to update
legislation to keep pace with immigration. An EU-wide study
on integration issued by Brussels this year criticized the
Republic's policies as having evolved in a "piecemeal and
economically-driven" fashion and placed Ireland the bottom of
its league table for the provision of long-term residence
rights to migrant workers. Currently, migrant workers'
security to live in Ireland is based entirely on employment
(putting them, critics say, at the mercy of their employers).
A proposed immigration bill that is before the Parliament,
if passed, will be Ireland's first consolidated piece of
legislation on immigration and give permanent residency to

19. (U) The Government this year also replaced a complex
work permits regime with a simpler one centered around a
"green card." Unlike the U.S. green card, it is simply a
two-year renewable work permit that covers all occupations
that offer an annual salary of 60,000 euros (USD 88,500) or
more and some "strategically important" occupations in the
30,000 euros (USD 44,250) to 59,000 euros (USD 87,000)
bracket where shortages exist, such as health care,
construction, and financial services.

20. (U) Ireland's "green card" is designed to be responsive
to filling high-skill shortages as they emerge; however, Jim
Power told econoffs that he believes it does not go far
enough and a Canadian or Australian-style points system is
needed. Shortcomings of the program include prohibitive
application fees, bureaucratic delays, and no clear path to
citizenship. Irish press reports say that it is difficult
for even highly-qualified foreign students to remain in
Ireland to work and, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers
report published earlier this year, companies in Ireland
report experiencing the most difficulty in the EU recruiting
foreigners to senior management and professional positions.

21. (U) Minister Lenihan said in November that he advocates a
European-led approach to immigration. He suggested that
without a common approach there will continue to be unnatural
flows of migrants within the EU due to EU countries'
disparate policies, social provisions, and economic


22. (SBU) Ireland's immigration experience is unique as it
has occurred against a backdrop of unprecedented economic
prosperity. However, the Republic's enviable position could
be altered if the Government does not adequately control the
flow, settlement, and integration of migrants, and improve
public services. Already there are worrying signs that
Ireland has been slow in developing appropriate policies to
address long-term challenges. Problems arising from unequal
access to education and housing in parts of fast-growing
northwest Dublin could worsen if not stemmed, contributing to
the emergence of tensions between immigrants and natives seen
elsewhere in Europe and leading to an "unvirtuous cycle,"
whereby Ireland ceases to attract the highly skilled
immigrants needed to sustain its economic prosperity.
However, if Ireland succeeds in integrating its increasingly
ethnically-diverse immigrant population while reaping the
economic benefits of a growing labor pool, the Republic's
policies could serve as a prototype for other EU countries
struggling to attract workers while maintaining social


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