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Irish Workers in Evanston

The economy in Ireland has been hit hard, and young immigrants regularly come to the area in search of work, though in many cases it is only temporary.

By Camille Shooshani
Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute

Alex Johnlynch smiled and struggled to explain the menu at Flat Top Stir-Fry Grill through a heavy Irish accent. At 4 p.m., the restaurant at 707 Church St., Evanston, was almost deserted. One customer giggled at Johnlynch's inflection.

“It’s only my second day, and somebody’s already laughing at me,” the new waiter said.

The global recession has battered Ireland’s job market.

Unemployment has soared to 14.8 percent, and almost a third of Irish 18 to 25-year-olds are out of work, according to Eurostat.

To escape the job drought, Irish students are flock to the United States and other countries. Many end up in Evanston.

“In Ireland, it would be difficult for students like me,” Johnlynch said. “It’s tough enough to get work.”

Four months ago, Johnlynch and five friends sat down in a University College Dublin dorm and listed cities. Chicago turned up on all their lists, so they packed their bags and headed to O’Hare May 28.

J1Visas allow foreign youths like Johnlynch a three-month work and school pass under the visitor exchange program, according to J1visa.state.gov.

In Chicago, Johnlynch submitted resumes to 50 restaurants, bars and pubs without any success. He and his friends were directed to Evanston by Daniel O’Donnell, who has made a business helping the Irish find jobs in the area.

Johnlynch found a job in a week after submitting five applications.

This isn’t Johnlynch’s first summer job in America. Last year, he ventured alone to Albany, N.Y., and tended bar at a pub. It has become common, he said, for students to emigrate temporarily for jobs.

“People call Australia half-Irish because so many people go there looking for work,” he said.

The owner of the Irish Times Restaurant Pub and Restaurant in Chicago, Martin Lynch, has been helping young people get situated in the city for a year now.

“It’s people from my hometown, mostly,” he said. “We come from a small community and I want to help them out.”

Lynch said that many people try to leave Ireland for Canada or Australia because permanent immigration in America is too hard, and it is much more attractive for students who can get temporary visas.

“There’s so much immigration,” Lynch said. “There are just no jobs out there, no construction or anything and America’s very difficult to get a permanent visa from.”

Saorla Whelan left Ireland for Chicago with seven friends. She also ended up in Evanston, working at Mt. Everest restaurant, 630 Church St. The 21-year-old moved for the summer from Cork, Ireland.

“We’ve met a bunch of Irish here,” she said. “Last night we met a few, none of which had jobs. They’re kind of under pressure at the moment. They think they might have to go home.”

At Tommy Nevin’s Pub, 1450-1458 Sherman Ave., Manager Rohnit Sahajapal said, “Every summer for the past few years, there have been a bunch of kids who come down. We usually hire a few.”

Camille Shooshani is a high school student from California participating in a five-week journalism program with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

Lisa July 31, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Great story!
Meg July 31, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Wow. Best economy story I have ever read. Not only was it interesting, but it also had an attention-grabbing lede. I bet the author had to rewrite it many times to perfect it as much as she did... This just makes me want to head over to Flat Top and meet this Alex character for reals! A+
rocket August 01, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Go to 940 w.weed st. in river north neighborhood on tues. nights and see how charming these douchebags are in person.

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