Migrant groups have higher levels of education, but some experience higher unemployment than people born in Ireland

Many migrant groups have higher educational attainment but higher unemployment levels, according to a new ESRI study published today. This study analyses data on first-generation migrants – those born abroad - from over one hundred countries of birth. It compares differences in educational qualifications, English-language skills, unemployment and job quality, using data from the Irish Census (2016). It was funded by the Department of Justice and Equality in line with the Migrant Integration Strategy 2017-2020.


Most migrant groups of working age are more likely to hold a third level qualification compared to people born in Ireland, around 40 per cent of whom have a third-level qualification. Within broad regional groups (like Europe, Asia, Africa), we find wide differences between migrants. Among Asian migrants, those from Taiwan, South Korea, and India are the most likely to hold a third level degree, while those from Afghanistan, Thailand, and Vietnam are the least likely to hold a degree.


Especially in Africa, many first-generation migrant groups have higher unemployment rates than respondents born in Ireland. This difference between African-born and Irish-born is linked to the fact those of Black ethnicity have a higher unemployment rate than those of White ethnicity, but the disadvantage for those born in many African countries remains even within ethnic groups.

Occupational Attainment

When employed, migrants from many Asian countries, as well as North America, are more likely to work in a professional or managerial job than those who are Irish born.

Understanding differences between migrant groups

We find that migrants from countries with a high rate of asylum applications to Ireland tend to have worse labour market outcomes, even after controlling for their education, English-language skills, age, gender, ethnicity, nationality and duration of residence in Ireland. This could be because of factors related to the trauma and disruption experienced by protection applicants prior to and during migration, or time spent in the protection system, particularly if prolonged.

Migrants born in EU countries have lower rates of unemployment than other migrants. However, among those who are working, EU migrants are less likely to work in high-skilled jobs.  Part of this difference is likely to be due to differences in the entry routes from different countries of birth: non-EU migrants who enter Ireland via the work permit system come to work in high-skilled jobs; EU migrants have unrestricted access and do not need to be highly skilled.

As expected, migrants with higher educational qualifications and better English language skills are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to be working in professional or managerial jobs.

Among non-EU migrants, being an Irish citizen is associated with lower unemployment rates, accounting for other factors.

Report author Frances McGinnity stated:

 “These findings underscore the importance of English-language skills and of recognising foreign qualifications for migrants in the Irish labour market. They also suggest that those who have come through the protection system may need additional supports to integrate into the labour market.  Measures to address ethnic discrimination in the labour market are also important.”

Launching the report Minister David Stanton TD, Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration said:

 “This research makes an important contribution to our knowledge about how migrants to Ireland are doing on the key integration indicators of education, employment and English language proficiency. In this study, for the first time, thanks to the use of detailed data from the 2016 census, we can see how someone’s integration journey is influenced by their country of origin. This gives us a better understanding of who is more likely to face barriers to integration, what these barriers are, and how to formulate effective policies to support people in overcoming them. It is critical that policymakers and other stakeholders have access to independent evidence such as this on the complex area of integration. I am pleased that the Department of Justice and Equality is supporting this research through its Equality and Integration Research Programme with the ESRI. ”

A webinar that discussed the findings of the report was held on Thursday, 4 June. You can view the slides from the webinar here:

To watch the webinar in full, please see the videos below. The videos have been broken down into three parts: The presentation, the speaker's response, and the Q&A session. For more videos, please visit our Youtube page

You can read the full report the webinar is based on here