Ireland to accept more workers from outside the EU after updates to employment permits

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation extended Ireland’s employment permits lists to patch labour shortages in 2020.

After the Irish government updated its employment permits system for people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) in mid-December of last year, more workers will be allowed to apply for a permit and stay in Ireland.

“A strong economy and full employment present their own challenges as labour shortages in certain sectors demonstrate,” Heather Humphreys, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. “These changes will fill immediate gaps in businesses across a range of sectors.”

Ireland, where the unemployment rate stands at 4.8 percent, manages its labour market through the employment permit system made up of the Critical Skills Occupations list and Ineligible List of Occupations.

Critical Skills Occupations List – employment in respect of which there is a shortage in respect of qualifications, experience or skills (medicine, ICT, sciences, finance and business).

Ineligible List of Occupations – employment in respect of which an employment permit shall not be granted as there are more than enough Irish/EEA workers to fill vacancies (personal services and the like).

Source: Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation

A review of the two lists is held twice a year in cooperation with businesses, experts in the labour market and other stakeholders. The next review is planned for early 2020.

The occupations lists are not the only way to obtain a permit

Only when employers fail to find workers in Ireland and the rest of the EU, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation agrees to make updates. The recently announced changes to the system came into effect on 1 January 2020 and concern the following sectors: hospitality, health, construction and road haulage.

“The sectors involved have had to prove that they are making every effort to recruit staff domestically and train up workers,” Minister Humphreys stressed.

Employers seeking out people for other jobs in the market, not included on the lists, may still apply for a renewable General Employment Permit. Nonetheless, they must advertise the job four weeks before they are free to apply for the permit, from 1 January, to see if a suitable Irish or EU worker gets interested in the offer.

Each non-EEA national must possess an employment permit in Ireland. Otherwise, a worker and their employer commit an offence. Every such a permit allows an employee to work only for the employer and in the occupation named on the permit.

Ireland established the system of work permits for non-EEA workers to benefit from economic migration while avoiding any disruptions on the labour market.

All chef grades will be eligible for a work permit

A total of 152,000 people work in the hospitality sector in Ireland. The Department decided to erase Commis Chefs from the Ineligible Occupations List from January 2020. This means all chef grades are now eligible for an employment permit.

“Chefs account for the highest number of vacancies in the hospitality sector and the shortage of Commis Chefs is feeding into shortages at higher and specialist levels,” the Minister claimed.

The occupations that will be removed from the Ineligible Occupations List and will be eligible for a General Employment Permit:

  • Commis Chef
  • Safety Manager
  • Building, Civil and Structural Engineering Technicians
  • Architectural Technician 
  • Draughtspersons
  • Construction Safety Officers
  • Foreman

In addition, the occupation of chef will be subject to a quota no longer although the Minister pledged to keep the change under constant review. Prior to the change, the Department had capped the number of issued permits to 610.

Hospitality establishments, which could apply for a maximum of two permits until now, will not be restricted as regards the number of chef permits any more.

Lack of workers in the construction industry

Not only hospitality but also the construction sector is beginning to feel labour shortages.

Minister Humphreys therefore announced most professional jobs in the sector were moved to the Critical Skills Occupations List.

“I am making these changes because I acknowledge the challenges facing the sector in meeting objectives under Rebuilding Ireland, Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and the Climate Action Plan,” the Minister claimed.

She added that investment is projected to rise to €41 billion by 2023. In the same way, technician grades and construction support occupations, including architectural technician and construction safety officer, were removed from the Ineligible Occupations List.

“In the longer term, I expect the sector to continue to develop strategies to reskill and recruit from the domestic and EEA labour market and invest in innovation wherever possible.”

The Critical Skills Occupations List will now include:

  • Site Manager
  • Structural / Site Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineers for all sectors (previously restricted to certain sectors)
  • Electrical Engineers (previously restricted to certain sectors)
  • Setting Out Engineer
  • Façade Designer
  • Architect
  • Architectural Technologists
Nurses reunified with their families

The Minister was not happy, either, about the fact that some nurses outside the EEA working in Ireland have had to leave their families in their home countries for 12 months. This, however, concerned only nurses with a nursing diploma.

“This isn’t fair and the system needs to change,” the Minister said in mid-December.

Until late 2019, only non-EEA nurses with a nursing degree could access the Critical Skills Employment Permit and bring their families to Ireland with them, the others with a diploma could access only a General Employment Permit. The latter permit allows for family reunification after a year and family cannot access the labour market automatically.

All qualified nurses coming from outside the EEA are allowed to qualify for a Critical Skills Employment Permit from January 2020. Nurses must also be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI).

The quota on truck drivers increased

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation decided to extend the quota for heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers by 200.

In general, road transport drivers, including large goods vehicle drivers, are on the list of ineligible occupations. However, Ireland exempted HGV drivers, who are in possession of a valid CE or C1E driving licence, from the list in April 2017 by providing a quota of 120 back then.

The measure concerns today drivers from South Africa, Australia, Japan and South Korea only.

In a similar way, Ireland extended the quota of employment permits for meat processing operatives by 1,000 from 1 January 2020 as the meat processing sector continues facing labour challenges. Butchers as well as food, drink and tobacco process operatives are, otherwise, seen as ineligible occupations in Ireland.

Peter Dlhopolec
Peter Dlhopolec

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