An English writer in the 20th century remarked that there are only two final realities for the Irishman: hell and the United States.
To be fair, it’s hard to find a North American who doesn’t have some sort of connection with Ireland. My family ran into this constantly as we raised support to join the work here. Some would relate a fond memory of a vacation or an anniversary well spent. Others could point to specific relatives of Irish descent: a grandmother from Limerick, an uncle from Dublin.
These personal connections make Ireland feel close to home: a land of lost relatives, myths, and legends. And yet, despite all the interest, the island hasn’t inspired significant missionary concern among North American Christians. Ireland is a first-world country with a deep Christian history, so this usually shocks people: it’s also the most unreached English-speaking country in the world.
Yet even for those aware of the needs, the road to ministry here isn’t easy. Over the last decade, the Irish government has introduced legislation making it challenging to move to the country on a Minister of Religion visa. It’s not impossible, but it is challenging. Some of our friends serving here went through eight years of legal tug-of-war before finally being granted the right to stay permanently. The Evangelical Alliance of Ireland is in talks with the government to ease the requirements, but no changes are yet on the horizon.
Despite these challenges, three groups can gain rightful access to Ireland in more straightforward ways: skilled workers, retirees, and EU citizens. This blog is an appeal to encourage readers in these three groups to consider the possibility of moving to Ireland. To be clear, I’m no expert on Irish immigration, so below I regularly provide links to Irish government websites which provide up-to-date and detailed information.
1. Skilled workers
Like many countries in the world, Ireland is recruiting skilled workers, particularly those listed on the Critical Skills Occupation list. The list reflects gaps in the Irish workforce, including everything from engineers and nurses to social workers and accountants. Employers are required to demonstrate that they have first attempted to fill the vacancy with an Irish/EU citizen, but if no suitable candidates are found, they can pursue an Employment Permit for their candidate of choice.
Moreover, low corporate taxation rates have resulted in many large businesses locating their European headquarters within Ireland (Google, Facebook, Apple, Dell, Amazon, PayPal, Microsoft, Twitter, and Pfizer, to name a few). Those already working for these companies in North America might be able to transfer to their Irish locations.
You might be wondering: is it really worth relocating yourself and your family to Ireland, only to work a full-time job in your same industry? Absolutely. In fact, before we moved, we were told repeatedly by Irish pastors that one of the greatest needs in their churches was simply for mature believers—not necessarily “missionaries.” So find a local church, plug yourself and your family in, cultivate friendships with unbelievers at work, and join in the work of making disciples.
North American culture often imagines retirement as a time for self-focused self-fulfilment after a lifetime of labouring for others. And yet, I’ve met many retired believers who are eager to use their final season of life for the glory of Jesus and the good of his church. In our early years of marriage, friends in this stage of life brought such encouragement and help to me and my family.
Many who are approaching or have already reached this stage would have never considered the possibility of moving overseas. And if moving would require learning a new language and culture in your later years, then it certainly would seem like an insurmountable obstacle.
But what about relocating to a first-world, English-speaking country and investing several years into a local church?
The main hurdle for this group is finances. Because Ireland provides many social supports, the country is hesitant to dole out visas to those who might be a drain on the economy. But for those possessing the necessary means to support themselves (the listed value is €50,000/person/year), the country is relatively open to retirees from abroad.
This wouldn’t need to be a “full-time” commitment, of course—it could simply mean living, serving, volunteering, and resting in this context—just like you would in North America.
3. Irish/EU citizens
In this next section, I’m focusing on those who are entitled to Irish citizenship. But because Ireland is part of the European Union, anyone entitled to citizenship in an EU member country would fall inside this final category.
As the late John F. Kennedy, himself the great-grandson of an Irish emigrant, once said, “Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold, or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people.”
Kennedy’s statement is hardly an exaggeration. It’s estimated that, in the last 200 years, 10 million Irish people have emigrated. Hundreds of thousands moved to Canada; around 6 million emigrated to the United States. Today, about 1/6 of American citizens (~43 million) identify their national background as Irish. No wonder it’s hard to find a North American without a connection to Ireland!
Irish mass emigration presents the most straightforward opportunity for North Americans to easily relocate to Ireland. If one member of a couple holds Irish (or other EU) citizenship, then the family can move to and work in Ireland, no questions asked. The island has bled its people for so long that it’s now eager to welcome them and their families back with open arms.
The exact intricacies of who qualifies for Irish citizenship can be confusing, so it’s probably best to leave it for the reader to get into the weeds to determine if they qualify. You can find information here, here, here, or in this helpful flow chart. In short, if you have a parent or grandparent with a connection to Ireland, then it’s worth checking to see if you qualify.
In the Lord’s providence, this was our ticket to service in Ireland. As we wrestled with where the Lord would have us serve overseas, we kept coming back to the needs here and we wanted to steward well my wife’s Irish passport. Sure, we could move somewhere else; there’s need everywhere. But we were uniquely poised by the sovereign Lord to labour among this people group. Beyond this, we sensed the Lord cultivating a love in us for her people. As Paul expresses it, a love and concern for “my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:3).
So if you or your spouse hold an Irish/EU passport or the rights to gain one, would you consider relocating your family here?
Healthy churches in the Republic of Ireland are few and far between, but they are vibrant, beautiful, and needy.
In obedience to Jesus, we are praying that the Lord of the harvest would send more labourers into this field. Has our sovereign Lord positioned you or your family for service here?
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