Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration and minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland’s labour market.
The regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and/or labour shortages in the State, required to develop and support enterprise for the benefit of our economy. However, where specific skills prove difficult to source within the EEA, and where such recruitment may benefit the State’s economic or social development, employment permits enable us to supplement our domestic skills and labour supply by allowing enterprises to recruit nationals from outside Ireland and the European Economic Area (EEA).
A contingent employment permits system
To implement this employment permits policy, Ireland requires an employment permits regime that:
- focuses on key sectors and skills shortages, especially in economically strategic enterprises with potential for jobs growth
- adheres to Community Preference and avoids disrupting the labour market or reducing the employment opportunities for the resident population
- ensures that employment permit holders are making a positive net contribution to the Irish economy
- minimises the potential for abusing the employment rights of migrants
- is clear and consistent and therefore attractive to migrants and employers
- is administratively effective and efficient, has a clear legislative basis, and is sufficiently flexible to react quickly to changes in the labour market.
In times of economic prosperity, the eligible occupations categories may be broadened to provide for an expanding economy, labour market shortages and skills needs. During a period of economic decline, the eligible occupations categories may be narrowed and other restrictions may be applied in line with a decline in employment opportunities and an oversupply of labour. Even during such periods, however, the need to meet certain skills requirements remains, and during such periods, employment permits may still issue to non-EEA nationals where it can be demonstrated that their expertise is required or restrictions exist.
Economic policy makers are cognisant of the social impact and cost resulting from economic migration. The overall contribution made by migrants to the Irish economy should outweigh the possible costs arising from the public services availed of by the migrant and his or her dependants. Therefore, a managed employment permits’ system is operated, to maximise the benefits of migration while minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland’s labour market.
Current Government policy is to issue employment permits for the employment of non-EEA nationals for specific vacancies and in response to employer demand.
The wider EEA labour market and Community Preference
In accordance with our EU obligations, employment permits policy is calibrated to encourage the meeting of general labour and skills needs from within the workforce of the European Union (and other EEA countries). Ireland's labour market is part of a much greater EEA labour market which affords a considerable supply of skilled workers.
Employment opportunities which arise in Ireland should, in the main, be offered to suitably skilled Irish and other EEA nationals, and should only be offered to non-EEA nationals who possess those skills and where no suitable candidate emerges from within the EEA to fill the vacancy. This policy fulfils our obligations under the Community Preference principles of membership of the EU.
Key factors in Government initiatives such as Project Ireland 2040, the overarching policy and planning initiative for the social, economic and cultural development of the country is the continued growth of high-value export-based sectors. If those sectors do not have access to a skilled labour pool, their ability to grow will be restricted. A nuanced approach to the granting of employment permits is required, prioritising resident and EEA job seekers, while enabling enterprise to access workers from outside the EEA where their skills or labour are key to supporting growth. Employment permits criteria are eased for those employers and sectors best positioned to grow Ireland’s economy i.e. employers capable of achieving a net national benefit to Ireland through exports or inward investment.
Skills and/or labour shortage
In framing policy regarding employment permits, thought is given to wider policy instruments that are also available in meeting the challenges presented by skills shortages. Migration in itself is not a sustainable long-term overall solution to skills shortages. It is intended to complement the primary policy objective of Government, the upskilling of the resident population at all levels. Policy makers are cognisant that migration can, in some circumstances, help to perpetuate skills shortages in the economy, by reducing latent demand for such skills.
Ireland has to compete with other countries for migrant labour, particularly at the high end of the skills continuum. Certain skills, such as those required in the high-tech sectors, are in demand worldwide. In this context, there continues to be a need to supplement Ireland’s skills stock through the issue of employment permits and a need, in addition, to ensure that Ireland’s employment permits system is geared towards attracting such skills.
Skilled workers will be attracted by Ireland’s value proposition, including its quality of living standards, its social and economic infrastructure, and perhaps most importantly, the reward packages on offer from Irish based companies. The employment permit system has been designed to target such skilled workers, complementing the advantages of life in Ireland with a set of waivers to facilitate their entry into the labour force here.
Review of Economic Migration Policy Report 2018
The Report on the Review of Economic Migration Policy, published in September 2018, included the recommendation that in order to make changes to the occupations lists, there would need to be a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA and not to other factors such as salary and/or employment conditions.
The Economic Migration Policy Inter-Departmental Group
The Economic Migration Policy Inter-Departmental Group which was convened to oversee the 2018 Review has remained in place to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the review and to monitor the guiding principles and operation of the regime on an ongoing basis.
The group oversees the twice yearly review process, and is composed of senior officials from the Dept. of Public Expenditure and Reform, Dept. of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Social Protection, Dept. of Health, Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dept. of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Dept. of Education, the Skills Policy and Education Policy Unit of this Department and the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) in SOLAS. The group provides a depth of cross-sectoral expertise which enables well-honed decisions to be made in respect of skills and labour issues.
Employment rights and protection of migrant workers
Migrants are a vulnerable class of people without the experience of Ireland’s labour norms. Language difficulties, cultural differences, and the absence of established social networks can disadvantage migrants and increase the potential for abuse by unscrupulous employers.
Ireland has a very thorough employment rights legal framework. The employment permits system has been designed to ensure that the employment rights of migrants are observed. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is responsible for regulating many aspects of the labour market and works to ensure that opportunities for labour exploitation are minimised. Many of the criteria associated with the employment permits system are aimed at ensuring that migrant employees are treated in line with Irish labour laws.
The Employment Permits Acts support employment rights compliance in the State and protection of employment rights for migrants by, for example:
- ensuring that there is a written contract of employment is in place
- ensuring the permit holder receives the original copy of the permit.
- the permit has a summary of the employees’ rights printed on it and contact details for the Workplace Relations Commission where the permit holder can access information in a number of different languages
- prohibiting deductions in respect of the employment permit application process from employee remuneration
- setting minimum remuneration levels.
Employment Permits Legislation Framework
The employment of non-EEA nationals in the State is governed by the Employment Permits Acts 2003 – 2014 which facilitates economic migration through nine different types of employment permits for different employment scenarios.
There are two Employment Permit Acts and one Amendment Act on the statute books – the Employment Permit Acts 2003 and 2006, and the Employment Permits (Amendment) Act 2014. The consolidated acts can be found at the following link: The Employment Permits Acts (Law Reform Commission, consolidated) 31 December 2020
The relevant secondary legislation comprises the Employment Permits Regulations 2017 (SI No 95 of 2017) which consolidated the previous Employment Permit Regulations, and the subsequent Employment Permit Regulations enacted each year since then, as listed below by year:
- SI No 550 of 2018, 13 December 2018
- Increase to the Meat Operative quota
- SI No 318 of 2018, 8 August 2018
- Increase to the Meat Operative quota
- SI No 163 of 2018, 14 May 2018
- Remove occupations in the agri-food sector (Meat, Dairy and Horticulture Operatives) from the Ineligible Occupations List, subject to quotas with a minimum remuneration of €22,000
- SI No 70 of 2018, 8 March 2018
- Add a number of occupations in the Animation industry to the Critical Skills Occupations List:
- Remove a number of Chef grades from the Ineligible Occupations List subject to quota
- SI No 633 of 2019, 12 December 2019
- Add a number of construction sector occupations to the Critical Skills Occupations List:
- Remove a number of construction sector occupations and Commis Chef from the Ineligible Occupations List:
- Remove the quota and the limit criteria for Chefs
- Amendment to the eligibility for the Critical Skills Employment Permit for NMBI registered Nurses
- Increase the HGV Drivers quota
- Increase the Meat Operative quota
- SI No 333 of 2019, 4 July 2019
- Increase the Dairy Farm Operative quota
- Increase the Boner (Meat) quota
- Increase the minimum annual remuneration thresholds for Critical Skills Employment Permits
- Extension of the period of advertisement on the EURES websites from two to four weeks
- SI No 138 of 2019, 2 April 2019 (subsequent to Quarter 4 2018 Review)
- Add a number of construction occupations to the Critical Skills Occupations List
- Remove a number of construction occupations from the Ineligible Occupations List
- Remove Transport and Distribution Clerks and Assistants, Plasterers and Bricklayers from the Ineligible Occupations List subject to quotas
- SI No 510 of 2020, 14 October 2020
- Amend eligibility for Registered Nurses/Registered Midwives
- Adding Vulcanus In Ireland Programme to the eligibility for Exchange Permits
- SI No 156 of 2020, 1 May 2020
- Amend eligibility for Critical Skills Employment Permits qualified CORU registered radiographers
Economic Migration Policy Unit