We bring into dialogue the migrant identities of young Irish immigrants in the UK and young returnees in Ireland. We draw on 38 in-depth interviews (20 in the UK and 18 in Ireland), aged 20–37 at the time of interview, carried out in 2015–16. We argue that “stretching” identities – critical and reflective capabilities to interpret long histories of emigration and the neglected economic dimension – need to be incorporated into conceptualizing “crisis” migrants. Participants draw on networks globally, they choose migration as a temporary “stop-over” abroad, but they also rework historical Irish migrant identities in a novel way. Becoming an Irish migrant or a returnee today is enacted as a historically grounded capability of mobility. However, structural economic constraints in the Irish labour market need to be seriously considered in understanding return aspirations and realities. These findings generate relevant policy ideas in terms of relations between “crisis” migrants and the state.