Most people associate Ireland's migration history with emigration but the country has an infrequently referenced but rich immigration history. For example, approximately 100,000 English-, Scottish- and Welsh-born people lived on the island following partition – 50,000 in the Free State and 50,000 in Northern Ireland. Around the same time, the island contained significant pockets of Litvak Jews, especially in Dublin, and smaller groups of Italians, French and German immigrants. Improvements in the Irish economy and the country's entry in to the European Economic Community (EEC) encouraged more west European immigrants to move to Ireland, with the amount of people born in the seven other EEC countries, excluding Ireland and the UK, tripling between 1971 and 1991. None the less, in comparison with other west European countries, Ireland remained a country remarkably untouched by post-war immigration.
Until the 1990s, immigration to Ireland consisted mostly of Irish emigrants returning home and a small number of Britons moving across the Irish Sea – often for love. With no pressing need for foreign workers owing to a largely stagnant economy, Ireland never attracted significant numbers of immigrants after independence. Since 1991, however, the country has undergone an enormous change as it came to contain a larger proportion of immigrants than many western European states that had experienced extensive immigration for fifty years or more. By 2011, 17 per cent of the population had been born abroad while 12 per cent of the population were citizens of other countries. Fewer than 55,000 people resident in the state in 1991 were born outside Ireland or the UK; by 2011 this had risen to more than 460,000. Other western European states, such as Italy, Portugal and Greece, had experienced similar transitions from countries of emigration to countries of immigration but not on the same scale as Ireland. Spain, which experienced a comparable construction boom – and subsequent bust – harboured the most similarities with Ireland, but many of its immigrants came from the country's former colonies in Latin America. The vast majority of Ireland's immigrant population came from other EU countries. This further distinguished Ireland from its EU counterparts, since most European states’ immigrants came from outside the EU.