THE DEPARTMENT OF business has announced that it’s making changes to the employment permits system for some workers from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) – following several years of skills shortages and families being separated after emigration.
The system has also experienced other issues in recent years, such as the significant delay in processing employment permit applications.
Various sectors have been calling for extensions to permit quotas and reclassification of some occupation as “critical skills” rather than general employment, to fill the growing skills gap as the country approaches near-full employment.
The changes will bring extensions to the number of permits allowed in some sectors, will remove quotas from others and will change some “general employment” occupations to “critical skills” occupations. They will also remove some occupations from the “ineligible” occupations list.
Critical skills roles are highly skilled professional jobs that can be tough to source in the labour force.
These roles are generally in the medicine, ICT, business and finance sectors. These critical skills permits come with “fast-track” benefits which allow the permit holder’s family to accompany them immediately and to also access the labour market.
An “ineligible” occupation is one where there are already enough Irish or EEA workers to fill the vacancies.
Hospitality, construction and health are all top of the list for industries affected by the changes, with haulage and meat processing also looking at changes.
In hospitality, where the commis chef occupation was previously “ineligible”, all chef grades are now eligible for employment permits.
The sector will also no longer be bound by quotas, where the number of permits was capped at 610 and the number per establishment was two.
Together, food and accommodation account for about €3 billion of total gross value added in the economy. The hospitality sector employs about 152,000 people directly.
In a statement today, Business Minister Heather Humphreys said that “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.”
She added that the changes will “ensure that the capacity gap is filled in the short-term”.
Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI), has called the move a “massive step forward towards solving chef skill shortage in hospitality”.
He added that “the lack of chef work permits available has been a huge cause of concern for our members over the past few months, and we are relieved to hear this announcement this morning.”
Like hospitality, the demand for workers in the construction industry is outstripping supply.
According to a department statement, this is down to the recession’s impact on the number of graduates and trainees coming out of education – as well as emigration.
Technician and support roles like foreman, architectural technician and construction safety officer have also been taken off the “ineligible” list, meaning the majority of occupations in the sector are now on the critical skills list.
Humphreys said she acknowledges “the challenges facing the sector in meeting objectives under Rebuilding Ireland, Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and the Climate Action Plan. Investment is predicted to increase to €41 billion by 2023 with growth expected to average at 16% in 2019″.
In the healthcare sector, the department wants to address an “anomaly” when it comes to permits for nurses.
The changes mean that all nurses from outside the EEA will qualify for a critical skills employment permit.
This is “the most favourable type of work permit – which brings immediate family reunification, broad access to the Irish labour market for family members and a fast track to long term residency after two years,” a statement said.
Right now, non-EEA nurses fall into two categories: those with nursing degrees and those with nursing diplomas.
Those with degrees can get a critical skills permit while diploma-holders can only get a general employment permit, which only allows family reunification after 12 months.
There’s “an obvious anomaly”, Humphreys said “where you can have two nurses working side by side in a ward, one of whom has their family here in Ireland and another who has to wait a year. This isn’t fair and the system needs to change”.
She added that “research shows” that many foreign national workers leave the country earlier than expected because their family members couldn’t join them.
This issue has been highlighted by lobby groups in the past across different sectors, notably tech.
In other sectors, the quota of HGV drivers has been extended by 200, while a sectoral working group is being set up to bring in a sustainable labour strategy for the meat processing sector – which is also having its permit quota extended by 1,000.