Little things make a huge difference when you are considering giving up your new life abroad for the country that broke your heart. Fortunately, plans are in place to address matters large and small in order to facilitate easier resettlement in Ireland for those who were forced to leave during the worst economic crisis in recent Irish history.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of sitting down with two Irish government Ministers of State while I was in Dublin for the Ireland Canada Business Association Summit. Ministers of State Ciaran Cannon (Diaspora and International Development) and Brendan Griffin (Transport, Tourism and Sport) gave plenty of time and attention to discuss a wide range of issues affecting those who have either already come home to Ireland or are thinking of doing so.
Before coming to Dublin, the Moving2Ireland team and I gathered a range of opinions and perspectives — both during conversations on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as globally via social media — from those who had already returned to Ireland, as well as those considering making the move.
With that in mind, here is a snapshot of where we’re at with bringing your concerns to the government’s attention and, in turn, which initiatives are at various stages of planning or implementation.
Third level fees
Currently, there are effectively three different categories of fees that may be paid by an Irish citizen wishing to study in Ireland, depending on his or her previous residency in Ireland (or lack thereof):
- Irish citizens who have been living in an EEA member state (including Ireland) or Switzerland for at least three of the five years before starting a course. These people can access all the government subsidies for education, including the Free Fees Initiative for third level education.
- Irish citizens who spent a cumulative period of five years in primary and/or secondary education in Ireland. Under an initiative started in 2014, these people can avail of what is known as EU fee rates; not as affordable as the category outlined above, but also more affordable than the international fees category outlined below.
- Some Irish citizens, such as the children of Irish emigrants who left Ireland many years ago, may have to pay international fee rates if they want to study in the Republic of Ireland. These fee rates are far in excess of the two categories outlined above.
Minister of State Ciaran Cannon recognizes that families whose adolescent children want to study in Ireland face a huge obstacle, as the children may fall into the third category above. We all want Irish children who want to study in Ireland to be able to do so, have a positive experience, and develop a strong affinity with Ireland and its institutions.
Moreover, many Irish citizens abroad remain unaware of the fact that their children may not qualify for fully subsidized education in Ireland, even if one or both parents studied in Ireland. This is a problem of awareness as much as it is of fairness, and at Moving2Ireland we aim to take on the challenge of making people aware, as well as making resettlement more fair.
Without going into too much detail, inter-departmental efforts are underway to make education in Ireland more affordable for certain Irish citizens who have never studied in Ireland before, and who therefore currently fall into the third category outlined above. This may begin as early as next year.
Still on the subject of fees for higher education, imagine you leave Ireland for a few years and, upon your return,you want to change your career pathway or simply add to your training and knowledge. You could have been working in mining in Australia and now you want to reinvent yourself as a construction manager, or a teacher in the Middle East who wants to get out of the classroom and into an office environment, or any other of a range of possible scenarios.
Because of the habitual residence condition, if you have been gone from Ireland for a few years you may have to pay international fee rates in order to upskill upon return. Too often we focus on education costs for our children and forget about number one, but it’s important for the government to be aware that these costs can affect individuals as well as families. Indeed, you don’t have to have a family in order to feel the effects of higher education fees.
I was glad to be able to address this concern when I met Ministers of State Cannon and Griffin, putting it on their radar for future discussion.
Many Irish citizens returning to their home country after a few years abroad are facing extremely costly, and often unforeseen, quotes for car insurance. “Surely they added an extra zero!” Well, the thing is that because car insurance is a fully private sector commodity, the government’s hands are somewhat tied when it comes to how costly insurance policies can be.
That being said, the government provides a list of insurance companies that are being supportive of returning emigrants’ efforts to get a competitive quote by taking into account, in some way or another, ‘no-claims’ driving discounts/experience earned abroad. Click the slide directly below to view those insurers.
Insurance operators that take into account ‘no-claims’ driving experience earned abroad
The following insurance operators responded to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and indicated that they do insure returning emigrants and that they do, in some way or another, take into account ‘no-claims’ driving discounts/experience earned abroad.
Recognition of driving licences
For those readers who may not yet be aware of this issue, here it is in a nutshell. If your Irish driving license is due to expire in a few months and you’re living abroad, if you let the license expire you’ll have to go through much of the entire licensing process again, which includes having to take driving lessons and sit a full test, even if you have been driving abroad for years. And if you want to renew your license, you would have to do so while physically in Ireland.
Moreover, in many cases you will not simply be able to trade in your non-Irish driving license for an Irish driving license, as this depends on bilateral agreements Ireland has with specific jurisdictions. For example, Ireland does not have a bilateral exchange agreement with the US, and only has agreements with certain Canadian provinces, but not others. For more information, see this dedicated page.
Now, regarding the driving lesson lessons, a few days after I met with the Ministers of State, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, announced a reduction in the number of driving lessons that certain returning emigrants must take, from 12 lessons down to six.
So, rather than lesson one consisting of being told where the clutch and steering wheel are, as of January 21, 2019 you’ll be able to skip ahead to learning about changes in road regulations over the years and re-acquainting yourself with driving on the left or driving with manual transmission again. There may still be grumblings about having to sit any lessons at all, but it’s important to note that the government is listening, and that any changes making returning emigrants’ lives easier on return, while not compromising the safety of all road users, should be welcomed.
Sponsorship of a foreign partner
For me, this is one of the more alarming issues facing returning emigrants to Ireland. For other issues, such as car insurance or driving licenses, you have mitigating circumstances or competing goals, such as involvement of the private sector and concerns with road safety, making for a balancing act.
But the issue of bringing a loved one to Ireland is a real head scratcher, because I’m yet to find someone who can explain the reasoning behind it.
Essentially, you can’t start the process of applying to sponsor a foreign partner who hails from a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) until you set foot on Irish soil. This typically means that the sponsored person cannot work in Ireland for a number of months after arriving, placing huge financial and emotional strain on couples coming to live in Ireland, particularly if they have children.
To his credit, Minister of State Ciaran Cannon is well aware of this issue and has been bringing it to the attention of his government colleagues. Why not allow couples begin the process during the planning stage of moving to Ireland, rather than mandating that they present themselves physically in the country before getting the ball rolling? Modern technology surely provides the means for this to be organized remotely, with proper oversight with regard to documentation and due process.
I also had time to bring up a couple of other returning emigrants’ concerns with Ministers of State Cannon and Griffin, including access to Maternity Benefits for mothers, recognition of international qualifications, such as for nursing, and the cost of accommodation, though admittedly this latter issue does not only affect people moving to Ireland.
What we are looking to provide is a greater deal of awareness in the early planning stage, plus more certainty in how things might play out as moving day comes into view, and then advocacy for fair access to resources for returning emigrants upon landing in Ireland. My colleague and Editor recently brought up some of these issues in an opinion piece for The Irish Times, and we are continually looking to build awareness and advocate for fairness.
We want to hear from you!
Through Moving2Ireland, Irish emigrants and those who recently returned have an opportunity to communicate their challenges and concerns to the top levels of the Irish government. Drop us a note in confidence on [email protected].