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News & Events

Minister Damien English announces comprehensive changes to the employment permits system in Ireland

Skills and labour shortages in construction, logistics, hospitality and agri-food sectors are addressed

Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD, has today announced changes to the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), following a comprehensive review by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The main changes include:

  • Most construction sector jobs now eligible for a General Employment Permit
  • Quota to be removed for HGV driver work permits
  • 350 General Employment Permits for hospitality managers
  • Social Workers to be eligible for Critical Skills Employment Permit
  • Dispensing Opticians to be eligible for General Employment Permit
  • New General Employment Permit quotas for 1,000 Horticulture Operatives, 500 Meat Deboners, 1500 Meat Processing operatives and 100 Dairy Farm Assistants; with a strategic review of labour attraction and retention in the sector to follow
  • New General Employment Permit quota of 100 for Work Riders

Minister English said:

"This is the third bi-annual review undertaken since the onset of COVID-19 and the impact of the pandemic on the labour market has been a significant consideration in today’s outcomes. These changes, which will come into effect from today, will address the more immediate skills and labour shortages across a number of key economic sectors.

“Employment permit policy is only one part of the response to addressing skills and labour deficits likely to continue into the medium term. It is not intended as a long-term substitute for up-skilling, nor should it displace sourcing labour from the State’s resident workforce.

“I encourage anyone who is looking to return to work or to join the workforce for the first time to engage with employers and their local INTREO office to avail of current job opportunities.  Employers who are recruiting staff can look for assistance through Pathways to Work, government’s national employment services strategy, as the economy and labour market recover."

Speaking of the Construction Sector, Minister English said:

“To assist with the skills and labour shortage in the construction sector in Ireland, I am announcing today that an additional eight categories of occupation within the sector are now eligible for a General Employment Permit.  This measure will support the delivery of the government’s multi-billion capital investment in the National Development Plan, the ambitious housing targets under the Housing for All strategy, and the investment in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and delivering a retrofitting programme under the Climate Action Plan.”

The newly eligible roles within the construction sector are: 

  • Electricians
  • Masons
  • Roofers, Roof Tilers and Slaters
  • Plumbers and Heating and Ventilating Engineers
  • Carpenters and Joiners
  • Floorers and Wall Tilers
  • Painters and Decorators
  • Construction and Building Trades Supervisors

This now means that almost all occupations in the construction sector are eligible for a General Employment Permit. 

Transport, logistics and supply chain sector

In support of supply chains and cognisant of the ongoing issues facing transport and logistic operators, exacerbated by COVID-19 and Brexit, Minister English has announced that any HGV drivers recruited from outside the EEA will be eligible for an employment permit without the limitation of a quota. The quota has been in existence since 2017 and was extended previously in 2019. As of today, the quota is not yet fully used up so does not present an immediate constraint on labour supply.

Minister English explained:

“Today’s decision to remove the quota entirely for HGV drivers will support the work of those businesses responsible for importing and exporting consumer goods and products to and from Ireland.  We have worked closely with the Department of Transport to help ensure continued access to the skilled workers needed as the economy continues to grow through the ongoing constraints of the pandemic and Brexit."

Hospitality sector

Businesses in the Hospitality sector in Ireland employed some 260,000 people prior to the pandemic. They have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 with unprecedented levels of temporary business closures and corresponding staff layoffs. Industry surveys from July identified significant vacancies, including at managerial levels. The Tourism and Hospitality Careers Oversight Group, chaired by Fáilte Ireland, collaborates on a number of initiatives to address labour supply and skills requirements in the sector and to help with recruitment and retention of staff.

Minister English said:

“Today, I am making available a quota of 350 permits to address an immediate need at management level for the hospitality sector as the economy continues to emerge from the pandemic. I also recognise the importance of training and experience in the sector, as well as the opportunities for professional development that it offers. The quota will be subject to a framework requiring a recognised third level qualification and five years’ experience in the role. A review of the situation for this sector will be held to make any adjustments necessary”.

Agri-food and agriculture sectors

Agri-food and Agriculture are experiencing unprecedented labour challenges due to the pandemic, in spite of initiatives to attract and retain staff and has identified significant unfilled vacancies prior to the reopening of international travel, the number which continues to increase with an attendant risk to supply chains and harvests. Ireland is an outlier in Europe in not having a seasonal employment permit. While legislation proceeds to rectify this, these new quotas will assist the sector.

Minister English said:

“The agri-food sector shows evidence of significant challenges, notably in meat processing and horticulture. We have responded to address that immediate need with additional permit quotas; 1,000 for Horticulture Operatives, 500 for Meat Deboners, 1,500 for Meat Processing Operatives and 100 for Dairy Farm Operatives.

“I am aware that challenges exist in finding sufficient labour for many operating in Agri-food and Agriculture. The quotas issued will be subject to a review of labour attraction and retention in the sector and should evidence based cases be made to my Department for further changes, they will be examined and acted upon appropriately.

“In addition, the Equine sector has indicated a long-standing need for Work Riders, an occupation with niche requirements which are especially difficult to source. As of today, a quota of 100 general employment permits will be made available for Work Riders.”

Healthcare sector

Changes already announced in June this year made the role of Social Worker eligible for a General Permit, however the sector has provided further evidence that availability of qualified Social Workers is still insufficient to meet demand. To address this immediate recruitment challenge and as part of this Department’s continued efforts to support the healthcare system, Minister English has announced that the role will now be made eligible for a Critical Skills Employment Permit.

In addition, evidence indicates that there is a shortage of Dispensing Opticians, impacting on waiting lists. In response to evidence provided from the sector, the role of Dispensing Optician will, from today, be eligible for a General Employment Permit.

Minister English concluded by saying:

“In this review, we are beginning to see some of the impacts and trends in the labour market resulting from the pandemic. The extensive nature of the changes from this review demonstrate that the employment permit system is flexible enough to address these shortages in real time, while being cognisant to the continuing impacts of the pandemic on labour supply."

Notes for Editor

Background

Ireland operates a managed employment permit system through occupation lists, namely the critical skills and ineligible occupation lists, which are reviewed twice a year. This is an evidence-based process that takes account of labour market conditions and submissions from sectors and other stakeholders together with contextual factors, including in the current context, COVID-19. The purpose of the system is to maximise the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting the Irish labour market.

The employment permits system

The Irish State’s general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within the workforce of Ireland, the European Union and other EEA states. Policy in relation to applications for employment permits remains focused on facilitating the recruitment from outside the EEA of highly skilled personnel, where the requisite skills cannot be met by normal recruitment or by training.  Employment permit policy is part of the response to addressing skills deficits which exist and are likely to continue into the medium term, but it is not intended over the longer term to act as a substitute for meeting the challenge of up-skilling the State’s resident workforce, with an emphasis on the process of lifelong learning, and on maximising the potential of EEA nationals to fill our skills deficits.

The occupations lists

The employment permits system is managed through the use of lists designating highly skilled and ineligible occupations. The lists are reviewed twice a year to ensure their ongoing relevance to the State’s human capital requirements. The review process utilises research undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) and other experts in the labour market, including the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) at SOLAS.  The Department also invites submissions from industry representatives, other Government Departments and any other stakeholders who might have a case to make, via a twice-yearly open consultation on the Department’s website. Since the Review of Economic Migration Policy which took place in 2018, the Minister has taken advice on economic migration from the Inter-Departmental Group which managed the review process.

The Employment Permits system is designed to attract highly skilled workers from outside the EEA to Ireland, to meet skills demand in the economy where those skills can’t be accessed through the resident labour force.  For the purposes of the employment permits system, occupations fall into three categories:

  • Occupations listed on the Critical Skills Occupations List are highly skilled professional roles that are in high demand and are not always available in the resident labour force.  Occupations on this list are eligible for a Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) and include roles such as medicine, ICT, sciences, finance and business. Special “fast-track” conditions attach to this permit type including the eligibility to apply to the Department of Justice for family members to accompany the permit holder immediately; and after two years may apply for permission to work without the requirement for an employment permit. 
  • Ineligible occupations are those with evidence that there are more than enough Irish/EEA workers to fill such vacancies. Employment permits are not granted for these occupations. Ineligible occupations are generally lower skilled occupations such as personal services and operatives.
  • Every other job in the labour market, where an employer cannot find a worker, is eligible for an employment permit.  For these occupations, the employer is required to undertake a Labour Market Needs Test (that is, advertise the job four weeks from 1 January 2020) and if no-one suitable applies for the job, the employer is free to apply for an employment permit.  Occupations such as these may be skills of a more general nature and are eligible for a General Employment Permit (GEP). This permit type is renewable and after five years the applicant may apply to the Department of Justice for long term residency permission. 

Remuneration threshold for the Critical Skills and General Employment Permits

With effect from 1 January 2020, the minimum salary threshold for Critical Skills Employment Permits (CSEP) is €32,000 per annum for occupations on the critical skills lists where the non EEA national holds a degree; and €64,000 per annum for eligible occupations were the non EEA holds the relevant experience. For the General Employment Permits (for which occupations that have been removed from the Ineligible Occupations List can qualify) is generally €30,000, with €27,500, €27,000 and €22,000 as exceptions for certain categories of employment.

For further information:

Critical Skills Employment Permits

General Employment Permit

The Critical Skills and Ineligible Occupations Lists review

It is vital that the employment permits schemes are responsive to changes in economic circumstances and labour market conditions. Therefore it is necessary to review the Critical Skills and Ineligible Occupations Lists on a regular basis, in accordance with the changing needs of the labour market. 

The employment permits regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA migrants to fill skills shortages. However, this objective must be balanced by the need to ensure that there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one.

An occupation may be considered for inclusion on the critical skills occupation list or removal from the ineligible lists provided that:

  • shortage exists across the occupation, despite attempts by industry to train and there are no suitable Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work;
  • development opportunities for Irish/EEA nationals are not undermined;
  • genuine skills shortage exists and that it is not a recruitment or retention problem;
  • the Government education, training, employment and economic development policies are supported;
  • the skill shortage exists across the occupation, despite attempts by industry to train and attract Irish/EEA nationals to available jobs.

Submission process

In order to maintain the relevance of these lists of occupations to the needs of the economy, a bi-annual review process is applied. As part of this review process, submissions are sought from representative bodies, Government Departments, Agencies, and other interested parties relating to occupations currently included on or absent from the lists. 

The submission process is an opportunity for stakeholders to provide additional information and potentially different perspectives on the nature and extent of skill shortages. Stakeholder submissions are a vital source of information, helping inform the Department’s final assessment of the status of occupations.