Spirit of the Irish Diaspora in Australia

Posted on August 21, 2021 by Benson Shi

The history of Irish migration to Australia dates back to 1791 when the first 155 Irish convicts arrived in Sydney. Furthermore, more than 300,000 Irish settlers migrated into Australia between 1840 to 1914.

The peak of Irish immigration into Australia was after the Great Famine where it reached 228,230 in 1891.

Irish immigrants then successfully settled in Australia with many of their descendants now holding influential positions in Australia. Many organizations, associations and clubs were then set up to unite and look after the wellbeing of Irish immigrants in Australia.

One of the most established organizations include the Irish National Association Australasia, which was established in 1915. Two other important organizations include the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau Melbourne, which was established by Phillis McGrath and the Irish AustralianWelfare Bureau and Resource Centre Inc NSW, established by Frank O’Donoghue from Tipperary, Ireland. Both bureaus were set up to look after the welfare of the Irish population in Australia. Another one of the first clubs was the Celtic Club in Melbourne, which was established in 1887 and the Queensland Irish Club which was established in 1898. Other clubs and associations include the business oriented Lansdowne Club and the Irish Australian Association which was established to promote Irish culture and dancing. This is not intended to be an exclusive list as there are many other groups which represent the spirit of Irish Diaspora in Australia.

Some believed that the reasons for Irish to emigrate from their native land at the time include reasons such as the barring of divorce by the constitution and the fact that abortion was illegal. Their choice back then was to pack up their bags and departed for either the UK, US, Canada and Australia.

According to official figures, there were an estimate of 100,000 citizens departing from Ireland to UK, US, Canada and Australia since 1983 to 1987.

Furthermore, according to our latest Census in 2006, there are 50,260 Ireland-born people in Australia with New South Wales and Victoria as the states with the highest numbers.

The journey of Irish immigration to Australia was not always smooth.

In 1995, 34 Irish backpackers who overstayed their visas were conned by men claiming to be immigration agents. They were persuaded to hand over an average of $5000 to the men who told them that he could get them Australian residency.

One of the men, referred to as ’the agent’, told the backpackers that they did not have to leave the country to make the application. However, the policy at the time was that overstayers must apply from overseas and be out of Australia for at least 6 months.

Immigration Lawyer Anne O’Donoghue who at the time was an honorary solicitor to the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau NSW acted for many of the Irish backpackers on a pro bono basis.

The Irish Working Holiday Visa Scam — How a succesful political lobby changed the migration legislation

This scam  played an important role. O’Donoghue noted that as a result, visa overstayers are now able to make applications for a partner visa in Australia, rather than be sent straight home to apply from overseas, where there are compelling circumstances. This was a major break through, preventing unecesary trauma on families.

There was a change of government in Australia in 11 March 1996 from Paul Keating to John Howard and it was touch and go to see whether the Howard Government, through the then Minister of Immigration Philip Ruddock would enact the legislation.

New Legislation Enacted by the Howard Government – 1996

On 1 August 1996, the government enacted a new legislation which permitted a partner visa application to be made, in Australia, despite the applicant’s unlawful status, where compelling circumstances could be established. From this date, any applicant with an illegal status could apply for a waiver provided that there were “compelling circumstances” .  At the time there was no definition of “compelling circumstances” for the grant of the visa. However, departmental policy stated that if there were Australian-citizen children from the relationship or if the applicant and the sponsor were already in a long-standing partner relationship for at least 2 years, then this would be considered compelling.

Widening the policy definition in 2009

The “compelling circumstances” was widened on the 14th of September 2009 to include other issues such as maternity issues where departure could complicate matters for the applicant, separation issue from the sponsor, financial hardship caused on Australian family if the applicant is the sole breadwinner and negative impact on step-children’s formative years if the applicant departs.

Opportunities for Sponsorship by Australian Business

In addition to tourist visas and working holiday visas which allow Irish backpackers to travel into Australia, more and more Irish Immigrants also migrated to Australia via the Business subclass 457 visa and 856 visa pathway. By the end of June 2009, a total of 2,501 Irish people acquired residence visas which were a big increase from a total of 1,989 in the previous 12 months.

Existing Pathways to future Irish Immigration to Australia.

With the current changes to the General Skilled Migration programs, many expressed concern over the chances and condition of Irish migration to Australia.

However, with the right pathways and the right legal and migration advice, Irish citizens looking to migrate to Australia should not be discouraged by the recent economic downturn and Immigration policy changes.

Presently, the Australian government is planning on introducing some changes to the General Skilled Migration program which may affect the flow on of Irish immigration to Australia. One of the biggest changes to the GSM program is the future removal of the Critical Skills List and a huge reduction to the Skilled Occupation List. This might mean that Irish people who want to migrate over to Australia as hairdressers and cooks could only be able to access regional sponsored migration in some states.

However, in a list provided by Workforce Future Australia which acts as a base for the new Skilled Occupation List, it lists high value profession which should not be a problem for highly educated Irish people to satisfy.

Furthermore, the Australian government is also currently reviewing the point testing system to the GSM program. Currently, you need to have 120 points to be able to lodge an application under the GSM subclass 885 program. The points are determined by the applicant’s age, nominated occupation and Australian education requirement. One of the subjects under review is the fact that the current point testing system does not give points for applicants with high quality education from overseas; instead it gives more points for Australian vocational courses.

Another matter under review is also whether or not the threshold for the English language requirement should be increased. Therefore, should the point testing system undergo changes, it will concentrate more on applicants with higher level of English with highly regarded educational background, for example Irish applicants graduating from the Top 100 universities in the world.

At the moment, there are no new planned changes to the Business subclass 457 visa, although there have been substantial changes over the past 12 months. The subclass 457 visa would still be the popular pathway for Irish immigrants who are skilled and have formal qualifications. Up and until February 2010, the two most popular occupations to be granted the 457 visa are Registered Nurses and Computing Professionals. This would mean good news, particularly for nurses in Ireland as there are plenty of Galway nurses who were reported to have migrated to Australia.

With the longstanding history of Irish immigration into Australia, Immigration Lawyer Anne O’Donoghue believes there are still good opportunities for Irish citizens in Australia due to the high level of education of the Irish workforce.

Originally posted on April 21, 2010 @ 10:49 am