The great famine in the late 1840s inaugurated the wave of Irish emigrants to the US, Canada, Argentina, and other countries: 100,000 in 1846, 200,000 per year from 1847 to 1850, and 250,000 in 1851. Since then, emigration has been a traditional feature of Irish life, although it has been considerably reduced since World War II. The net emigration figure decreased from 212,000 for 1956–61 to 80,605 for 1961–66 and 53,906 for 1966–71. During 1971–81, Ireland recorded a net gain from immigration of 103,889. As of November 1995, more than 150,000 people had left Ireland in the previous 10 years, unemployment being the main reason. The top two destinations were the United Kingdom and the United States.
During the 1990s there was been a considerable rise in the number of asylum-seekers, from 39 applications in 1992 to 4,630 in 1998. The main countries of origin were Nigeria, Romania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, and Algeria. During the first half of 1999, 1,965 asylum applications were filed, and some 6,000 applications were still pending. Additional staff had to be hired to deal with the backlog. Also, during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, Ireland took in 1,033 Kosovar Albanians who were evacuated from Macedonia under the UNHCR/IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme. In 1999, the net migration rate was -1.31 migrants per 1,000 population.