Pubs bursting at the seams are a reminder of the old saying that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s a little bit Irish.
But statistics show that immigration to Canada has become a lot more Irish.
By the end of 2011, there were more than 5,200 temporary foreign workers from Ireland in Canada, up almost 1,000 from the year before.
While the number pales besides statistics on workers from countries such as the Philippines or Mexico, Canada has become a premier destination for Irish workers fleeing a soured economy in their home country and an employment rate hovering around 15 per cent.
“The word over in Ireland for the last two to three years is that Canada is the place to go,” said Eamonn O’Loghlin, who came to Canada from Ireland 36 years ago and is now involved in a number of Irish-Canadian organizations.
“They can hit the ground running here, they are all very well educated, there’s no language barrier, no real cultural issues and they have a very dynamic and caring Irish diaspora here already so there’s someone here on the ground.”
The high numbers of Irish going to Canada have even caused some hand-wringing in the United Sates, long an Irishman’s favourite second home.
“Today, however, our country is being deprived of the talent of the best and brightest of Ireland’s young,” said column in Thursday’s New York Daily News, which blamed America’s immigration policy for the decrease.
“Now, many are immigrating to Australia, Canada and England. And as some two centuries of previous Irish immigration have amply shown, our loss of this wealth of talent is the gain of our economic rivals.”
Efforts like those by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to actively recruit Irish immigrants have helped send a signal, said Cathy Murphy, the executive director of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre, which has its formal opening in Toronto on Saturday.
Wall travelled to Ireland last month with a group of business leaders to attend job fairs in a bid to fill vacancies.
Construction associations from B.C. and Alberta also conducted their own fact-finding missions this year to source out labour.
“Canadians are opening their arms to new immigrants and I do think that’s why we’re seeing more to come here right now,” Murphy said.
Irish immigration to Canada dates back to the 16th century. By the 2006 census, more than 4.3 million Canadians listed their ethnic origin as Irish.
It’s the strong diaspora that’s helping out today’s newcomers, said Murphy.
“Although they left under difficult circumstances, certainly, they wouldn’t have left under circumstances that are as dire as what’s happening in Ireland now,” she said.
“I think the older generation feels quite a lot of empathy that the younger generation has to leave Ireland because of jobs, there isn’t a choice. They are not coming for adventure, they are coming out of necessity.”
Even the Irish government itself is working to make sure that its emigrants are well supported in Canada.
In 2011, the government in Dublin spent close to $14.8 million on grants to support Irish people around the world, with about $190,000 of that going to Canada, including to the new immigration centre.
On Saturday, Ireland’s deputy prime minister will be among those in attendance at the centre’s opening.
He’s one of 16 government ministers dispatched around the world from Dublin this St. Patrick’s Day.
The charm offensive seeks to both woo investment but also send a signal to the almost 100,000 Irish who left home in the last two years that their government does hope to see them return.
But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is hoping more of them actually stay.
“We’d like to give them a more realistic choice of staying here as permanent residents,” he said.
“We’re happy to be in competition with Ireland for the talents of their young people.”
The government is looking at changing the working holiday visa program commonly used by the Irish to allow them to apply for permanent residency sooner.
Only 665 became permanent residents last year.
“If they’re doing well in labour market, if an employer likes them and wants to keep them and they meet our other criteria like speaking English, why would we want to send them back?” Kenney said.