The European Union and the United Kingdom have been embroiled in Brexit for the last few years, with no clear end in sight. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU has been postponed twice, and is currently set for 31 October, but disarray within the British government means that no one is sure if the UK will leave on that date, or if it does, under what terms.
The fear of a no-deal Brexit—in which the UK crashes out of the EU with no agreed arrangements—looms over all. The result has been a lot of confusion for both businesses and workers, especially those in industries with a relatively mobile workforce, such as tech.
Consequently, tech recruitment firms based in countries that will still be part of the EU after Brexit, such as the Republic of Ireland, have seen an uptick in activity.
“We set this company up two years ago and we’ve been consistently busy,” says Cian Crosse, managing director of Dublin-based nineDots, a technology recruitment firm. “But now we’re mental busy. And the taps just don't seem to turn off, which is great for us.”
Traditionally, in the movement of tech workers between the UK and Ireland, it was rare for people move from the UK to Ireland, according to Rose Farrell, a senior recruiter at nineDots.
“I don’t think I've ever heavily recruited from the UK,” explains Farrell. “People in the tech industry in the UK prefer to work on contract basis. And the rates are much, much higher than the Irish market can pay so we just can't afford them.”
However, the job market dynamics between Ireland and the UK is changing, according to both Crosse and Farrell, with a lot more movement now from the UK to Ireland.
“Before, we just ignored the UK market for employees, but now it just makes sense for us to start approaching these people as well,” says Crosse. UK-based workers “are a lot more open to the prospect at this point.”
Crosse and Farrell have also witnessed a substantial increase in multinational firms, such as Barclays, opening offices in Ireland as a way to protect themselves from whatever may be facing them in the UK. The issue for multinationals that are headquartered in the UK, or even run a large part of their operations out of the UK, is that that they don’t know if they are going to have access to the entire EU employee pool, or only the pool available in the UK, according to Crosse.
“It has just made more sense for a number of companies from the UK to set up their operations here in Ireland,” says Crosse. After so many years of uncertainty, whether or not a no-deal Brexit ultimately occurs, or even if Brexit is suspended, “I think companies have kind of said, ‘They’ve made their bed. They can lie in it,’ so to speak,” says Crosse.
This Brexit uncertainty is also affecting non-EU multinationals. Ireland has long been attractive for multinationals because of its relatively low corporate tax rate. However, Crosse believes he’s witnessing something different because of Brexit.
“We’ve been helping some large US-based companies get established in Europe,” said Crosse. “They were looking at the UK, but it just makes more sense for them to set up here along with everybody else in the EU. Ireland has the highest pro-EU sentiment in the EU, so companies can actually feel confident setting up here.”
Crosse further explains that Ireland is also attractive for US-based companies because if Brexit goes ahead, Ireland will be the only primarily English-speaking country in the EU.
This rosy picture for the Ireland has its drawbacks, including potential economic and political impacts arising from the re-imposition of border controls between the Republic and Northern Ireland. There is also a continuing housing crisis, and the recent influx of multinationals setting up in Ireland has exacerbated the problem.
“When we start talking to both companies and employees, one of the first things we have to discuss is how expensive housing has become in Ireland,” says Crosse.
To address this issue, some of the multinationals are offering relocation packages that include two or three months of accommodation. “Companies want to make sure that the people they recruit have some place to live when they arrive with their bags in their hands, so they can hit the ground running in their new job,” says Crosse.
A version of this post appears in the August 2019 print issue as “Brexit Pushes Tech Workers From Britain to Ireland.”