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News & Events

Up to 1,800 doctors to benefit from changes to immigration rules

Doctors who have been working here for more than two years will immediately be able to access a Stamp 4 permit and spousal work rights. Stamp 4 offers the right to work without preconditions. Changes will significantly reduce administrative burden for affected doctors and make Ireland a more attractive place for doctors to relocate to, helping fill posts in hospitals around the country.

Major changes to working arrangements and immigration permissions for most non-EEA doctors have been announced today (Tuesday, 8 March) by the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD.

The changes will give most doctors with General Employment Permits the same rights as doctors on the Critical Skills Employment Permit scheme and make Ireland a much more attractive location for doctors to come to.  It will help our health service to attract and retain medical staff and increase the number of applications for vacant posts. It will also reduce the administrative burden placed on doctors and their employers by the State.

From now on, most non-EEA doctors already in the State for between 2-5 years with a General Employment Permit may apply for a new permission granting them the right to work without a permit. Their spouses or partners will also receive a permission allowing them to work. Currently these doctors must have been present and working in the State for five years to qualify.

The Tánaiste said:

“For decades, doctors from outside Europe have made an enormous contribution to the Irish health service. Among them was my father, Dr Ashok Varadkar, who came to Ireland in the 1970s.  The value of the contribution made by non-EEA nation doctors was particularly evident during the pandemic.

“Having worked with many non-EEA doctors, I understand their frustrations with our migration system. They are not given the same opportunities and it is hard for them to get on specialist training schemes and then apply for consultant posts. Many want to stay in Ireland and build their careers and raise their families here.  We make it too hard for them and many move on to other Western countries.

“We have already changed the system to allow for a two-year employment permit so a doctor does not need to change his or her work permit every time he or she moves hospital.

“Today I’m delighted to announce further changes that will make it easier for doctors to get on the pathway to residency and to give their spouse an unlimited right to work. I believe it will make Ireland a more attractive place for doctors to move to and remove many time-consuming interactions with multiple departments, including my own.

“The work of these doctors is an example of how migration has enriched Ireland and infused our country with new knowledge, new ideas, culture and energy. Our health service simply would not function without doctors, nurses and support staff from outside the EU. 

“This change will be good for the health service and lead to efficiencies in the employment permit and visa system.” 

Minister McEntee said:

“Improving the immigration conditions for non-EEA doctors and their partners and spouses is something I welcome and is in line with my commitment to create a more fair and efficient immigration system.

“Migrant doctors have long played a crucial role in our health service and these changes go some way towards recognising that contribution.”

Minister Donnelly said:

“Our health workforce is expanding, and we need to make our health service an attractive place to work for doctors from outside of Europe.  I have held a number of meetings with non-EEA doctors and am aware of their frustration with our migration system.

“These changes announced today provide non-EEA doctors with greater certainty regarding their immigration status. They will also provide enhanced career opportunities and greater access to postgraduate specialist training programmes. These changes, including spousal work rights, make it more attractive for doctors to come to work in Ireland and stay here.

“I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of non-EEA doctors and all frontline healthcare workers for their tireless work, over the past two years especially.”

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment began issuing two-year multi-site general employment permits to doctors in the public health system in December 2021. 

The Department of Justice is announcing that doctors will in future only need to renew their permission annually instead of every six months. The changes mean doctors can avail of an immigration permission that allows them to remain in the State and work without the need to apply for additional employment permits, in most cases. Their spouses or partners also become eligible to work. 

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will accept applications from these doctors during a six-week period from mid-March until the end of April 2022. The Department of Justice will then process the applications and issue new IRP (Irish residence permit) cards to those who qualify directly.

It is estimated that some 1,800 non-EEA doctors will benefit from this new arrangement.

Notes for Editor

Prior to December 2021, all general employment permit holders, including doctors, had to complete five years residence and work before becoming eligible for a Stamp 4, which offers the right to work without preconditions.

In December 2021, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in agreement with the Department of Justice and the Department of Health, introduced a new two-year multi-site general employment permit for non-EEA doctors working in the public health system. Currently, the Department of Justice is issuing these doctors with a Stamp 1 upon proof of a valid employment contract from the HSE.  However, Stamp 1 does not give automatic work rights for partners and spouses.

A) New Stamp 1H for Doctors

The Department of Justice is now creating a new stamp category called Stamp 1H for doctors in HSE and HSE funded agencies (ie the Section 38s/voluntary hospitals) and private hospitals.  This includes those who have recently received a two-year multi-site General Employment Permit from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Spouses of these doctors who currently have a Stamp that does not allow them to engage in employment will be able to apply for a Stamp 1G as part of this new system, which will give them unlimited work rights.

Doctors who complete two years’ service under Stamp 1H will then become eligible for a Stamp 4 support letter from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. A Stamp 4 offers the right to work without preconditions.

For doctors in HSE and HSE funded agencies (ie the Section 38s/voluntary hospitals) and private hospitals on a General Employment Permit, but not a two-year multi-site General Employment Permit, arrangements will be made to allow them to transition to a Stamp 1H in the coming months.

B) The Stamp 4 waiting period is reduced to two years, from five year, for doctors who already have over 24 months’ service in Ireland

Doctors in HSE and HSE funded agencies (ie the Section 38s/voluntary hospitals) and private hospitals who had already completed 24 months’ service in Ireland will be entitled to apply for a Stamp 4 support letter from The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is estimated that up to 1,800 doctors are in this cohort.  Their spouses will become eligible for Stamp 1G, allowing labour market access, once the Stamp 4 is granted to the doctor. 

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will soon open an application process, available until the end of April only, for these doctors to apply for a Stamp 4 support letter. Once assessed the information will be electronically shared with the Department of Justice, who will then issue the Stamp 4, with a target date of completion by end May.

Taken together, the changes will provide the following benefits:

1) These changes will provide equal benefits to doctors coming to work in Ireland

Under the current system only a limited number of doctors can apply for a Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP). This permit gives doctors access to a Stamp 4 after two years and gives their spouses full access to the labour market immediately.

Currently, most doctors who come here are not eligible for a CSEP as they don’t secure the necessary two-year contracts.

These changes will immediately give doctors who have been working here for more than two years access to a Stamp 4 and spousal work rights. It will also ensure that in future most doctors will be eligible for these benefits once they have completed two years employment in Ireland.

2) It will make Ireland a more attractive location for mobile talent

Many countries seek to supplement their healthcare workforces with personnel from other countries. It is a competitive global market where competition is not just based on salary but also on other immigration features such as pathways to residency and spousal work rights. These changes will make Ireland a more attractive place for doctors to relocate to. In particular, this will help with the struggle to staff smaller hospitals and increase the number of applications for posts.

3) Reduced administrative burden on doctors and their employers

These changes will massively reduce the number of times a doctor, and their employers, have to interact with Department of Justice and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The removal of these multiple interactions will provide an improved customer experience for all parties.

Summary of proposed changes

 

Doctors with General Employment Permit who are new applicants or less than 2 years in the State

Doctors who have completed more than 2 years and less than 5 years

Type of Stamp

Receive Stamp 1H if new applicant or if currently in the State for less than 2 years, then eligible to transfer from Stamp 1 to new Stamp 1H

Can move to Stamp 4 from Stamp 1

Eligibility for Stamp 4 – timeframe

Eligible for Stamp 4 after 2 years instead of 5

Eligible for Stamp 4 after 2 years instead of 5

Type of stamp spouse/partner may receive

Partners/spouses eligible for Stamp 1G allowing labour market access once Stamp 1H is granted to doctor

Partners/spouses eligible for Stamp 1G allowing labour market access once Stamp 4 is granted to doctor

Frequency of stamp renewal

Move to annual renewal instead of every 6 months