Until recently, Ireland was a country of massive and sustained emigration. Unskilled workers predominated amongst emigrants, but emigration by skilled workers and graduates was also significant. Levels of emigration declined during the 20th century, but remained high by European standards.

Ireland is now a net importer of people, experiencing: over the last 15 years a rapid increase in the numbers of people from all parts of the world moving to live, work and study there. About 60% of immigrants are returning Irish emigrants and their families. Immigrants increasingly originate from countries other than Britain, the US, Canada or Australia. While European enlargement has had an impact on immigration, many immigrants to Ireland originate from non-EU countries.

Immigration is fuelling Ireland’s dynamic economy. Labour shortages have occurred at the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ ends of the labour market with about 3 out of every 4 work permits being for services sector workers. The Irish economy and social systems has become dependent on immigrants: the health and social care systems have become reliant upon overseas-trained and –educated care workers.