MEMBERS of the Irish emigrant community worldwide faced increased financial struggles, isolation and mental health concerns due to the pandemic, a new report has found.
The findings are contained in Ní neart go cur le chéile: Irish emigrant community experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic, a report from the Crosscare Migrant Project assessing the impact of the global health crisis among members of the Irish diaspora.
Crosscare recorded insights from Irish emigrant support organisations who work with Irish emigrants in Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States.
“The aim of this research was to capture the experiences of Irish emigrants who were living abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic and who were in contact with Irish emigrant support organisations,” they explain.
“The research collected insight from the organisations on the challenges faced by Irish emigrants, their needs, how they were supported, and what we can learn from these experiences to help prepare for future challenges facing Irish emigrants.”
Ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill launched the report this week at an online launch event for the Irish community in Britain.
Danielle Mc Laughlin, Irish Abroad Networking Officer with Crosscare Migrant Project said of their findings: “Emigrants who were living abroad during the pandemic experienced various levels of stress and crisis such as job loss, visa uncertainty, restrictions with returning home, isolation, serious health needs, or domestic violence.”
She added, “Irish emigrant support organisations and the Irish emigrant community stepped up to support the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances.”
Ms Mc Laughlin said the report highlights the importance of support networks for emigrants living abroad in times of need - including Irish emigrant support organisations, Irish embassies and General Consul offices, the Irish Government, the wider Irish community and personal support networks.
The report also offers an insight on the generosity of the Irish community who offered support to organisations during the pandemic, through volunteering and fundraising, and outlines the adaptation of the organisations to continue offering vital supports through new modes of remote communication with the Irish community.
The figures show many organisations increased their capacity by collaborating with partners to provide support in the form of fundraising, food parcel deliveries, online concerts and other wellbeing and mental health supports.
Regarding the importance of the Irish organisations supporting members of the diaspora through the pandemic, the report confirmed: “Irish emigrant support organisations were often the first port of call for emigrants in need of assistance.
“The organisations responded to emigrants’ needs with a considerable level of innovation, flexibility, reliability and creativity, and adapted their services to best serve the Irish community in their region.
“They collaborated with other organisations, Irish associations, stakeholders and state agencies to organise supports, services and funds.”
It adds: “They galvanised volunteers to provide remote and doorstep social supports and food deliveries.
"They held out a virtual hand and raised spirits among people who were isolated, stressed, afraid and devastated.
“The strength of the Irish diaspora community across Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States shone through as a beacon of light for the diaspora during the most unprecedented and devastating event in recent times.
“The Irish diaspora, the emigrant support organisations and all other stakeholders maintained a safety net and lifeline for many Irish emigrants.
“This research presents a snapshot of their experience and eff orts. Ní neart go cur le chéile: there is no strength without unity
A full copy of the report is available here.
Financial insecurity was the most dominant pandemic-related issue affecting Irish emigrants in contact with respondent organisations, with 80 per cent reporting that it was the most serious issue.
Countries started to go into lockdown from March 2020 and an immediate impact on the labour market ensued, with high numbers of workers put on temporary hold or made redundant globally.
Governments responded to the devastating impact on the labour market with fiscal mechanisms, such as unemployment payments and financial packages for businesses to retain employees.
Irish emigrants who had secure immigration permission and the safety net of access to state welfare, plus any personal savings, were less likely to contact the respondent organisations.
Undocumented Irish emigrants in Australia, Canada and the United States were immediately financially impacted, with limited or no access to state welfare or financial supports.
Respondent organisations initiated fundraising activities to raise emergency funds for Irish emigrants in serious financial distress.
The lack of access to supports ultimately resulted in the return of Irish emigrants who left with no choice, once savings and cash supports from organisations were depleted.
The urgency and volume of calls for informational support during the “first wave” of the pandemic and first lockdown in each country was significant.
Irish emigrants contacted organisations seeking a range of information on Covid-19 regulations, travel restrictions, immigration status, access to state benefits, emergency financial supports, and physical and mental healthcare needs.
Organisations not traditionally set up to provide urgent informational needs made themselves available remotely and kept emigrants informed via as many modes of communication as possible, with 55 per cent of organisations providing new information and advocacy services.
This involved the organisations in a lot of time, coordination and resources, often working outside of normal working hours and working remotely.
The evolving pandemic meant fast-paced changes to restrictions, which demanded constant updating among organisations, many of which benefited from shared information and peer support from other organisations, community groups, networks and Irish Embassies and Consulate Generals.
Isolation, Wellbeing and Mental Health
Organisations shared commonalities in the main pandemic-related crisis issues they reported as being experienced by the emigrants who were in contact with them.
Dominant across all organisations were isolation, wellbeing and mental health needs, particularly among the older and vulnerable groups in the Irish emigrant community.
Their regular engagement in social activities in the Irish centres, which were regarded as a weekly need or a lifeline to many, came to a sudden halt when the lockdowns started.
In a bid to retain the engagement of their client groups and to prevent crises developing for people, these organisations responded with multiple forms of remote-based and outreach contact for those who were self-isolating and had to remain at home.
The organisations reacted speedily to offer a compromise within their capacity, in order to retain some engagement.
This consisted of a combination of the provision and delivery of basic necessities such as food and household essentials, doorstep outreach visits, food or meal deliveries, and phone and remote online engagement.
The transition to online engagement was a steep learning curve for many people who were unfamiliar with using IT, internet, video calls, and text or WhatsApp messaging.
Organisations provided a lot of support and safeguarding, to ensure the inclusion of people who needed assistance with accessing online supports and activities.
The impact on Irish emigrants’ immigration status and legal immigration permission to reside and work was an issue identified by organisations in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Immigration was not present in issues reported by the UK organisations, as the United Kingdom is part of the Common Travel Area in which Irish citizens can move and live freely between the two jurisdictions.
Variations in experiences occurred between regions, particularly in relation to immigration issues.
In the United States, for example, emigrants with expired Irish passports sought assistance in renewing their passport in order to travel back to Ireland.
In Canada, many emigrants were in contact with the Irish Canadian Immigration Center for assistance with seeking an extension of their visas or applying for permanent residence.
In Australia, emigrants on temporary visas, particularly working holiday visas, were encouraged by the Australian Government to return to Ireland if they no longer had work or means to stay.
This led to a surge of queries to organisations for support with finding flights to return to Ireland, as the international airports started to close down.
The emigrants most significantly impacted were undocumented Irish citizens, particularly in the United States, where some emigrants were known to have lived and worked for many years.
The impact of the pandemic was multifaceted for undocumented emigrants.
It included loss of employment or businesses, loss of income, restricted access to state supports and health services, dwindling savings, and limited support from networks.
Many faced the decision to leave their life, and in cases, family, in the United States and return to Ireland long term.
The risk to livelihoods being pulled from undocumented Irish emigrants overnight was sharply demonstrated during the pandemic and outlines the clear needs for support to achieve pathways to secure documented status for undocumented Irish emigrants