In recent years and months, when the word ‘Australia’ is mentioned in passing, it is met with a mixed reaction of hope, disappointment and understanding from recession hit Ireland. Australia, the land of opportunity, employment, blue skies, sandy beaches,

In the past year especially, the prospect of emigration to Australia has not always been a welcomed one. The miserable image of the unemployed packing up their belongings, and their families, leaving everything they know and loved behind, forced to start a new life in a foreign city, has been dissected and regurgitated in every aspect of Irish media.

There’s no doubt the rebirth of this phenomenon is cause for serious concern, but is the word ‘emigration’ becoming all too commonplace in our society? Tom is repeating the Leaving Cert this June, having received disappointing results the first time round. When asked what he’ll do if he gets poor grades the second time round, he shrugs – “I’d probably emigrate. It’s what everyone else seems to be doing.”

Michael is 19 and in his final year of a diploma course in computing. He confesses to strongly disliking the course and hasn’t committed to his studies as a result of it. “It’s fine though, I’m going to pass my final exams, get the diploma, work for a year and then I’m heading to New Zealand. I know computing won’t be my chosen profession, but I’m sure I’ll find something I like in New Zealand.”

Is the casualness of emigration diminishing the ambition of our youth? It has become the butt of new jokes for students in colleges and secondary schools alike. “The recession? It’s grand sure, I’ll just emigrate,” they joke.  Even Facebook is responding to the trend. A group entitled ‘Australia is for quitters . . . I’ll be hardcore and stay in poverty’ has generated over 100,000 likes.

Maria Davis, an 18-year-old former student from Swords, has just returned home from Australia, cutting short her intended stay by two months. Maria obtained over 400 points in her Leaving Cert last June, enabling her to accept her first choice on the CAO, but after just four weeks of starting in UCD, she decided it wasn’t for her.

“I decided to go to Australia because I hated my college course and wanted to leave it. Rather than waste a year doing nothing I thought that travelling would be a good idea. I also wanted to spend time with my sister who has lived there for six years.”

Her older sister had always encouraged Maria to spend some time living and working with her in Melbourne, and although Maria was already employed as a waitress in Dublin, she decided then was the best opportunity to do so.

Taking that kind of opportunity for any student is pretty much a no-brainer, when you compare the lifestyle of a working student in Australia to that of one in Ireland. The minimum wage in Australia is A$15 (approx. €10.88) and Maria claims that most employers are willing to pay above the minimum wage.

“It was very easy to find a job once I began looking for one. I decided to spend the first month holidaying. Once those four weeks were finished I handed one CV into a local cafe and was phoned the next day and offered an interview. I worked as a waitress on A$18 (€13) an hour and averaging about A$300 (€217) a week. I was living with my sister throughout the stay. The cost of living is higher here compared to Ireland, food and clothes are more expensive, but I was able to afford the necessities. If I had wanted to rent accommodation I would definitely have needed a second job, as the cafe weren’t offering me more than 20 hours a week.”

With a roof over her a head, a comfortable job, the beach on her doorstep and Melbourne city just a short commute away, what could possibly have swayed her to move home?

“Once my holiday time was over and I was working everyday it was just normal life. I may as well have been at home. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. My sister worked from 8am until about 6.30pm every day, so I couldn’t go places that weren’t on the train line unless she was home.

I missed my family and friends. Sometime the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I may have been too young to go on this massive journey alone. Most people are in their twenties when they take on this trip, I only turned 18 a few months before I left. I thought I would be distracted by all the amazing stuff Australia has to offer, but I wasn’t.”

Paul Dunne was 25 when he was made redundant from his job as a carpenter, just as the recession hit, in 2008. He decided then to pack a bag and set off for Australia with what money he had left and his friend, Aaron, who had also been let go from the same firm. They lasted four months.

“We went over with the intention to find work but we ended up making a holiday out of it instead, I suppose we didn’t really look that hard for employment once we got there. I loved living on the east coast; we had such an amazing experience. In the end though, we ran out of money, so had to return home.”

Paul is now 28, living in Dublin and seeking employment. “I wouldn’t go back to Australia to live there permanently.  If I won the lotto maybe,” he laughs. “But not now.”

The Australian Visa Specialists have reported a 60% increase in Irish people aged 18-31 seeking to migrate there, with the Central Statistics Office claiming that emigration is at a 20 year high. Their figures back this up, outward migration from Ireland rose from 7,800 in April 2009 to 34,500 in April 2010.

The Australian government are responding to the sharp incline though, by recently reducing the list of skills that allow the holder to apply independently for visas, from 400 to 200.

In retrospect, Maria admits that Australia did have a strong impact on her decision to leave college so early. “I suppose I wouldn’t have been so hasty to drop out college if the offer of Australia wasn’t on the table. My parents wouldn’t have taken to me dropping out of college so well if I wasn't going to keep myself busy for some of that year. And if my parents weren't happy, I would have stuck it out for a bit longer, even if I hated it.”

Clearly, Maria learnt a strong life lesson from her time in Australia and hopes to one day return with an education in journalism and said she’d “definitely bring some friends next time”.

For Paul perhaps it was a wasted opportunity, and like thousands of others, is facing bleak prospects at home in Ireland.

Dave Kilmartin, of DIT Careers Service, says that for those students who are jumping on the emigration bandwagon, their reasons for doing so need to be challenged, and they must be provided with the best possible information.

“You need to tap into the students’ mindset, for many, if they don’t think jobs are out there, they won’t look for them. We need to challenge their assumptions and ensure they have explored every avenue at home before they feel forced into emigration. Information is powerful, and we at the DIT Careers Service need to be critical of students’ rationale in order for them to make the best possible decision regarding their future.”

Dave has seen some positive changes though, as DIT recorded a ten percent increase between 2008 and 2009 of students enrolling in further studies, whereas statistics for travel and emigration have remained the same. “These figures are reflected nationwide.”

However desolate and unpromising the future is being made to look for Irish students by the media, emigration should not be glorified as an easy way out. In order for this country to recover, we need highly qualified graduates to rebuild the private and public sectors. Our graduates should be exhausting every avenue of finding employment in Ireland before following the herd to emigrate. Our Celtic Tiger mindset needs to change . . . we need to work hard to rebuild hope in Ireland.