Unemployed Migrants and Unemployed Locals: So Similar and So Different

I used to work as an employment advisor for the people who face long term unemployment; this was when I lived in Ireland, not so long ago. It was an incredible experience, enriching me with so many skills and allowing me to meet so many people, different destinies, personalities.

People, their feelings, their stories, this all poured towards me daily, with the expectation for me to understand, find the solution, but most importantly, to give respect. And that I did, to the best of my abilities and it has been a journey, rewarding in most surprising ways.

The learnings from this period still stay with me. The most important learning is in realising why unemployed migrants and unemployed locals are so similar and so different at the same time.

A tag to bear: UNEMPLOYED

Amongst my clients, there were Irish nationals, as well as people of many other nationalities and cultures. Each client had their own problems, views, personality, so my approach, although within the service standards, was very much custom made and individual.

From this position, it was possible to see what makes all those people similar to each other, what bonds them, and what the differences are.

One thing common to all was that no one enjoyed the tag, the position of being unemployed. They were all coming to the same office, bearing their different backgrounds, pains and hopes on their shoulders, but they had the same, common perception that being tagged as unemployed is something they do not want in their lives. 

Some were facing it with shame, some despair, anger, sadness, some were optimistic and very active, some were taken down by constant rejection. Some people lacked the vision, some had the vision. Almost all of them had the need for information, guidance and kindness. 

Same, only different

I like pointing out things that make us similar, that connect us. Thinking about the situations that make us all feel the same, evokes a calming feeling in me. It means: look, humanity, vulnerability. It shows: look, reason to love, connect, not hate. It shouts: hey you are not better, nor worse, you are a person and so are they.

At this point, I am not sure if you are wondering, what were the differences that I noticed. Well, one truly remarkable difference was between local people, the Irish born and the migrants. 

The fear! This dreadful feeling was dominant in my clients who came from new communities, migrants of any sort. 

Although some local clients were obviously fearful as well, I was noticing this sentiment a lot more often in those who were new to the community, to the country, even when their move to Ireland was not completely recent.

Fear is a confidence breaking, pride consuming feeling. It tells the person something bad could happen. It blocks creativity, it blocks the vision for positive outcomes. Fear was finding its home in my clients’ minds, consuming their dreams, affecting their ability to go for their next step, to imagine themselves in a better position, to aim higher. Being unemployed can evoke fear – it’s scary to look for work, to be judged, evaluated, rejected. It’s also scary to be accepted, to choose a path. Everyone feels that.

However, my clients who were new to the country had reason to fear more, or so they felt. Will their unemployment affect their prospects of staying in the country? Will their decision to come here prove wrong? Will their host community members think badly of them, judge them for not having a job? Are they being rejected due to racism, xenophobia? Are their language skills good enough? Is it the accent?

Will they ever be accepted? Will they belong? Will they be able to prove their qualifications from abroad? Will they ever be able to go back to their original career path? Will the system block them? Will they be penalised for doing a  wrong move, moving too much, moving too little, filling the wrong paperwork, applying, not applying, dates, forms, proofs? If everything fails, who will support them, for they might have no family here? 

Ultimately, they fear: What if I never get to be equal!!

Fear vs. priviledge

Even though I have the same level of empathy for all of the people who came to that office, looking for my help, my heart especially goes for those experiencing the fears that come from the fact they came from a  different country. For those who might have escaped war, or fled from the despair of no prospects for future in a bad economy, or other unfavourable reasons. Backgrounds like these, create challenges and barriers, so that people whose life stories hold this history, must work a lot harder, fight fiercely to achieve the same results as people who had happier histories.

People with happier histories, people who have not experienced difficulties such as war, poverty and other dreadful situations, people born in forward-looking, developed countries, are experiencing a privilege. There is no shame in that, in fact, it is something to embrace and use as a motivation and understanding it is a blessing to build upon. But please, when understanding that you are blessed with this randomness in life, think of those who are not and provide support, empathy and love.

My heart goes for anyone going through the unemployment phase, and I hope you all know you can do it and the better days can come, just don’t give up and do look for help.

Sanja Ivandic

Sanja Ivandic is one of the Co Founders of Outside Multicultural Magazine.

Sanja moved to Ireland from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and after 5 years moved again, this time to Germany. She is an intercultural and EU Project Specialist with an Irish leading education and innovation company Momentum Educate + Innovate.

Inspired by the Sligo Intercultural Project she managed for a while, as well as her work in various NGOs such as LEDA and World Vision, this Magazine was born.

Sanja wrote for several magazines, enjoys every form of writing, be it poems, case studies or prose. Her special skills lie in marketing. As an ex employment advisor, Sanja often uses her skills to help unemployed persons, especially to help boost careers of migrant women. You can get in touch with Sanja by emailing her on: [email protected]

Sanja’s words on multiculturalism: “Multiculturalism for me is a synonym for humanity. Being diverse and similar at the same time is who we are and we must never forget it. Remembering this evokes respect, love, and peace, so we must keep reminding ourselves about the word multicultural”.


Sara Leahy

Sligo photographer specializing in family and wedding portraits




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