All across the SECC in Glasgow this weekend the air is thick with dreams of a new life far away from Scotland.
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Up to 4000 visitors are expected at the Emigrate show, an exhibition designed to do one thing: help people leave the country of their birth … and business is booming.
“People have migrated for centuries. But an industry has now sprung up. It’s much more organised but it’s
definitely a lot harder,” says Mike Schwartz, managing director of JP Events and Exhibition, which is running the emigration show.
“You can sit and look at the New Zealand government website but at the end of the day you want to talk to somebody and say, ‘I’m a plumber and my wife’s a nurse, have we any hope of getting in to New Zealand?’
The typical visitors are young families, who list securing a better future for their children as the main reason for leaving Scotland – along with, of course, the weather.
According to the government, between mid-2007 and mid-2008 30,800 Scots moved abroad. In the same period, 38,500 people moved to
Scotland from overseas. Around 200,000 UK citizens emigrate annually.
The most popular destination is Australia, followed by Canada and then New Zealand. A smaller number also leave for America.
Tight visa rules based on your profession govern whether dreams can be realised – healthcare workers and skilled tradesman have the best chance.
But the recession means things are changing. Last month, Australia’s immigration minister Chris Evans introduced tweaks to legislation designed to preserve jobs for Aussies. Last year 170,000 people from across the world applied to live there – but there were just 108,100 visas.
Darren Chatt, from Edinburgh-based emigration specialists Visa-Go, said: “The Australian government is making a lot of changes that we expect to make it a lot harder, but New Zealand is making it easier.” The Kiwi government has just upped the total number of visas for foreign workers each year.
Paul Wildy runs Wildy Immigration, which specialises in emigration to Canada. He said: “A lot of people have decided they want to leave the UK and are looking for somewhere to go. People come to Canada because they are looking for somewhere with seasons, cheaper and bigger housing, they are impressed with the education and health care is free.”
But the grass is not always greener on the other side of the world. It is estimated around 25% of emigrants later return to the UK, and experts say mostly it is because they have not done their research – like the man who emigrated to Alice Springs to work as a roofer. After his first day on the job, working in 45°C heat, he collapsed.
It is also not uncommon for people to yo-yo back and forth.
The Mortons, from Aberdeen, moved to Rockingham, Western Australia, in 1988. But they returned to Scotland four years later after missing family, before returning to Oz in 1999.
Gloria Morton, 50, a teaching assistant, said: “Being a little bit older and our kids being old enough to decide for themselves that they wanted to go meant the second time was more successful.”
But daughter Arran, 26, has now returned to Scotland, splitting the family once more.
However, for many there is no coming back to the UK. Lisa Cannon, 32, swapped Strathclyde Police for Western Australia Police in 2008.
“We lived in a three-bedroom semi with a wee square garden; here I have a four-bedroom [house] with a cinema room and a pool,” she said. “We love the laid-back lifestyle, the sun.”
Though a move Down Under is the most common exit, the American Dream also lures many.
Hadleigh International helps people move to the US by buying a business, which costs from around $100,000 (about £66,000). Its director, John Dimmock, expects to get up to 30 inquiries over the weekend.
Scots who have made it in America say it is hard work but worth it.
Siobhan McFadyen, 32, from Coatbridge, who now lives in New York, said: “The US is a place that appreciates hard work. It can be a very tough place to live and since the exchange rate dropped it has become super expensive, for example a loaf of bread costs £2.63! But I would say go for it.”