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Type: Theses
Title: Contemporary Irish migration to Australia: pathways to permanence
Author: Breen, Fidelma
Issue Date: 2018
School/Discipline: School of Social Sciences
Abstract: This thesis investigates the experiences of contemporary Irish migrants in Australia by exploring migration, settlement and return migration amongst the research project’s respondents. The recent period is important because it encompassed both a technological revolution in the growth, availability and affordability of travel and communications technology and because it saw an increase in the Irish population in Australia, of 39 per cent, from 2006 to 2014. Since the mid-1990s there has been a major shift in immigration policy whereby concentration on permanent migration, particularly the family unit, has been replaced with a proliferation of visa classes that promote temporary entry in line with global trends. Significant changes, such as the introduction of the 457 visa and the extension of the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa, have meant that the temporary intake has become more prominent. These changes also encouraged an investigation of the migration experiences of Irish people to Australia as these visas, despite being elements of the temporary visa programme, permitted a pathway to permanent residency in Australia. This mixed methods study was conducted through two surveys (n=1,560) disseminated through social media platforms and in-depth participant interviews (n=67). Findings were benchmarked against secondary data from national data agencies and the Émigré study, University College Cork, Ireland. The surveys allowed Irish people resident in Australia and those who had left to describe their visa use, migration motivation and settlement experience. Results found that the majority of immigrants entered Australia on a temporary, long-stay visa, and most did not intend to settle permanently in Australia. This intention changed quite rapidly after arrival and most WHMs transitioned to a 457 visa as the most typical ‘next step’ on the pathway to permanent residency. New Irish arrivals tended to seek out Irish friendship groups or socialise with other migrants and this was ascribed to three things: cultural comfort provided by other Irish people, experiential similarities with other migrants and the perception that Australians had long-established friendship groups which were difficult to penetrate. Contemporary Irish migrants were a ‘good fit’ for Australia’s labour market and career progression was one of the most notable benefits of migration. However, increased satisfaction with job, salary and career prospects post-migration did not prevent some respondents choosing to leave Australia. The majority of those who departed returned to Ireland, with departure usually family motivated: migrants either wanted to be nearer ageing parents or wanted their children to experience a childhood similar to their own close to extended family members. Analysis showed a high level of engagement during migration through mobile technology with family, local community and with regional and national political, economic and social developments in Ireland. Methodologically, this study contributes to the emerging and growing field of research using and investigating social media. Theoretically, this research demonstrates two migration theory threads at play for the recent Irish immigrant cohort in Australia – one related to the process of migration which adheres closely, but not perfectly, to Neoclassical II economic theory and another, a cultural migration process, related to transnationalism. This thesis expands our understanding of transnationalism amongst the Irish in Australia where more recent migrants have enacted a strong trend towards ‘transnationalism from the ground up’ in their use of multi-level connections to Ireland locally, regionally and nationally through electronic media and other online fora. Exploration of the empirical data demonstrates a strong need to participate even virtually in life in Ireland and further, a keen awareness of everyday happenings which was not available to migrants in pre-internet times. In this context, transnationalism and transnational practice has the potential to become more prevalent for first and deeper generations of the Irish diaspora. Overall, since 2000, the contemporary Irish migrant experience in Australia has been a strongly positive one. The significance of the findings lies predominantly in the visa used to enter Australia. The rapid transition to a longer-term visa and ultimately to permanent residency suggests that visa use was dictated by expediency rather than design. Even those who entered on a permanent visa did not always intend to settle in Australia. Recent changes to Australia’s temporary visa programme, namely the replacement of the 457 visa with the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa will likely lead to different outcomes in the future.
Advisor: Rudd, Dianne M.
Barrie, Helen
Reilly, Alexander Peter
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Social Sciences, 2018
Keywords: Australian immigration
Irish migration
visa system
social media
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at
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