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It is easy to leave—it is harder to come back.

This was the resounding sentiment emerging from a recent panel discussing professional reintegration of returning Irish emigrants at Abhaile (a conference exploring contemporary Irish return migration)—an often overlooked trend.

While emigration continues to dominate Irish headlines, a steady stream of Irish abroad are now returning, presenting unique opportunities and challenges for businesses. Here are some suggestions on how to empower this cohort to make a smooth transition and leverage their global experience, based on insights from our work at Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project.

Understanding Return Migration

Since 2017, Ireland has experienced strong levels of return migration. These figures rose during the pandemic. According to the latest Population & Migration Estimates from the Central Statistics Office, 29,600 Irish citizens returned to live in Ireland from abroad in the year to April 2023 (just shy of the 30,500 who emigrated in the same period). Our client base alone returned from 48+ countries in 2023. Traditional Irish emigration hubs like the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. topped this list, followed closely by countries in the Middle East/Africa (representing 24.1% of our returns).

Irish emigrants returning home boast a wealth of international experience, diverse skillsets, and international perspectives that are beneficial to businesses. However, they also face discrete challenges that must be considered in order to tap into this cohort’s potential. While everyone’s journey home is unique, some well-documented obstacles include:

  • Reverse Culture Shock: While many are familiar with Irish culture, the Ireland they return to is different to the one they left. Returning emigrants have also been changed by time away and/or personal developments. Re-acclimating to local norms and practices (especially in the workplace) takes time.
  • Logistical Hurdles: From finding housing to accessing social services, the practical aspects of relocating can be daunting and stressful.
  • Network Connectivity Issues: Irish personal and professional networks may have weakened.
  • Professional Re-alignment: Skills gained abroad may not perfectly align with Irish market demands or qualification recognition.

Welcoming Strategies

Reintegration can begin in the workplace. Every returnee will have different needs, but management teams can lead the way by implementing several general supportive measures:

Recruit to facilitate planned returns: We always encourage returning emigrants to plan ahead. Be a part of this solution by being responsive to informational queries to give emigrants a lay-of-the-land. Accommodate remote recruitment options, allowing emigrants to job hunt before returning.

Develop tailored onboarding: Address returnees’ unique needs in induction by…

  • Clearly Communicate Policies and Practices: Clear is kind—and alleviates returnee anxiety. Eliminate the guesswork of your organisational norms and procedures and do hesitate to spell out what seems obvious.
  • Professional Development: Offer workshops/resources to help them reacquaint with the local industry standards and culture, and keep the door open for questions. Provide training to bridge skill/knowledge gaps. Support returnee employees in bringing relevant certifications up-to-date.
  • Local Networking Opportunities: Facilitate introductions to key stakeholders and provide access to local professional networks through shadowing, event invitations, and mentorship programmes.

Leverage international experience: Returning emigrants often bring back innovative ideas and fresh perspectives from abroad, yet may lack outlets. Encourage returnees to share their experiences and insights through knowledge-sharing sessions and cross-functional projects.

Be flexible and aware of the whole picture: Returnees are adjusting to life back in Ireland—not just the workplace. Consider flexible work options that allow them to manage their transition comfortably and help navigate practicalities such as tax, housing, healthcare, family supports, and more. Recognise that many returnees may have partners or children with no connection to Ireland, necessitating additional support. Childcare, school places, and immigration are likely top-of-mind. Paying attention to the bigger picture and distinctive needs of each returnee can go a long way to (re)settlement.

Offer wraparound supports: Transitioning back Ireland can be emotionally and socially challenging. To supplement regular employee assistance programmes and other wellbeing schemes, it is crucial to deliver or signpost to social and psychological supports to that address aspects of return, including:

  • Wellbeing: Culturally sensitive counselling supports are available for Irish emigrants returning home (learn more here).
  • Social Supports: Encourage participation in social activities and resource groups that foster belonging.
  • Returnee-Specific Services: Knowing what resources are available (and how to make a referral) can help you connect returnees with transformative supports beyond the scope of the workplace. For instance, Citizens Information hosts a Returning to Ireland portal with bespoke information on wide breadth of topics for returning Irish emigrants. Additionally, non-profit organisations funded by Ireland’s Emigrant Support Programme such as Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project, provide free information and advocacy supports to Irish citizens at all stages of migration.

Supporting returning Irish emigrants is not just a matter of corporate responsibility, but a strategic move that can drive innovation and growth. By appreciating the issues they face and implementing comprehensive support strategies, organisations unlock the potential benefits of their international experience, contributing to a more dynamic and innovative workforce. In light of increased inward migration, including by former emigrants, let us ensure that those who return to Ireland’s shores feel welcomed, valued, and empowered to contribute and live up to ‘cead mile failte.’

About the Article

This article originally appeared in the July 2024 edition of the Ibec network’s monthly business E-Zine, Engage. Read the full E-Zine here.

Ibec is Ireland’s largest lobby and business representative group, which strives help build a better, sustainable future by influencing, supporting and delivering for business success. Our sincere thanks to Conor Gibbons and all at Ibec for inviting us to contribute some insights from our work assisting Irish citizens returning to Ireland for the benefit of management and HR professionals.

Additional Business Resources for Returning Irish Emigrants and Employers

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