Austerity, short-term economic recovery and public perception of immigration in Ireland

April 26, 2022

Society, Vol. 59, 2022, pp. 349–358 

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The economic crisis of 2007/2008 did not affect all members of the European Union (EU) to the same extent. In the Irish case, the economic crisis and subsequent period of austerity paralleled an erosion in public support for immigration. However, little is known about how public perception changed during a period of short-term economic recovery, like that experienced in Ireland from 2014 to 2018. Using repeated cross-sectional survey data unique to Ireland, this work captures change in attitudes towards immigrants during the pre-crisis and late-austerity periods. Moreover, this research evaluates the importance placed on two immigrant attributes intimately linked to the labour market — education and skills. We provide evidence of an emergence of more moderate views of immigration during the recovery period, but only in the perceived importance of educational qualifications. Perception of skills remains notably unchanged. Of note, both attributes remain more important in the public eye relative to before the economic crisis. In other words, short-term economic recovery does not automatically translate into a more welcoming reception. We confirm that crises and periods of austerity erode public perception of newcomers, particularly when immigration is framed in terms of skill-based economic contribution. However, this work reveals some of the scars of a rapid and deep economic downturn alter the context of reception in a durable way, which remains notably resistant to short-term recovery.