News & Events

Minister Humphreys announces additional employment permits to address labour shortages in the agri-food sector

• 100 additional work permits for the dairy sector, a doubling of the 50 permits announced by the Minister as part of a pilot scheme last May

• Minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 for Dairy Farm Assistants under the scheme, with obligations for employers in relation to the welfare and prospects of the foreign nationals employed

• In addition, 300 work permits for Meat Deboners with a minimum remuneration threshold of €27,500

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, has today (Wednesday, 24th July 2019) signed off on changes to Employment Permit Regulations, which will make it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the EEA. The changes include 100 additional permits for Dairy Farm Assistants, following the introduction of a pilot scheme for the occupation in May 2018, and 300 work permits for Meat Deboners. The allocation for the dairy sector represents a doubling of the initial 50 permits announced by the Minister last year.

Speaking ahead of the announcement in County Monaghan, Minister Humphreys said:

“As we approach full employment, labour shortages at the lower-skilled end of the jobs market are becoming apparent in some sectors. This has the potential to constrict growth if these needs are not met. The dairy sector is particularly affected in the immediate term so, following consideration of a detailed, evidence-based case prepared by the sector, I have approved an extension to the current pilot scheme.”

With the end of milk quotas in 2015, the Irish milk production sector has been growing substantially and the value of our dairy exports has risen by huge 78% since 2010. The sector estimates that over €2.5bn of investment has been made on farms to increase capacity and improve environmental and animal welfare programmes and in excess of €1bn has been spent by dairy processors to increase capacity, add value and diversity the national product mix. The industry predicts that the requirement for labour on dairy farms will increase by some 700 full-time positions per annum over the next 7 years.

The Minister continued: “I am aware that the sector has been proactive in responding to the potential obstacle to growth that these labour shortages could create. A number of initiatives have been progressed to increase the recruitment of labour from within Ireland and the EEA including recruitment drives, upskilling and training programmes and the development of measures aimed at making dairy farming an attractive career option.”

She added: “This announcement today will ensure that in the short to medium term the sector’s immediate labour requirements will be met through the recruitment of non-EEA workers. In the longer term, the sector will continue to progress initiatives to increase recruitment at home and in the EU.”

The extended pilot scheme includes a minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 with specific obligations for employers in relation to the welfare and prospects of foreign nationals employed under the scheme, including ensuring access to suitable accommodation and to training including language training.
A new quota of 300 employment permits for meat deboners, with a minimum remuneration threshold of €27,500, has also been approved. This is being introduced following consideration of the submission by the industry of a business case citing the continuing difficulties experienced by employers in the sector to source labour resources, despite their investment in training programmes and recruitment drives both nationally and across the EEA. The employment permit system offers an interim solution for employers where specific skills prove difficult to source within the EEA.

In this context, the Minister stressed: “It is imperative that the system remains correctly positioned to meet the State’s emerging labour market needs, be they labour or skills shortages. The introduction of a quota is to ensure that in the longer-term actions are taken to put in place strategies to source labour supply from both the domestic and European labour markets and to invest in innovative technologies for the sector.”

She added: “The Government’s strategy for the agriculture sector, Food Wise 2025, identifies ambitious and challenging growth projections for the sector including substantial increases in exports, value added and primary production along with the creation of 23,000 additional jobs all along the supply chain. The agri food sector is, in the main, indigenous with a wide regional spread benefitting all parts of the country. Today’s announcement is another important step in addressing the labour shortages currently facing the sector.

In relation to other sectors experiencing labour shortages, she concluded: “Organisations in sectors seeking to make changes to the occupations lists are welcome to submit an evidence-based business case for consideration. The submission should clearly demonstrate that their recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages of appropriate personnel across the EEA and not to other factors such as salary or employment conditions. All submissions received are considered by the relevant lead Government Department, the Interdepartmental Group on Economic Migration, and my own officials.”

Other changes announced by the Minister today give effect to a number of recommendations of the Review of Economic Migration Policy (2018), which will commence on 1st January 2020. They include the increase in the Labour Market Needs Test for the General Employment Permit from two to four weeks to more adequately test the EEA labour market. They also include an increase in the remuneration threshold for the Critical Skills Employment Permit, for occupations that are in high demand, from €30,000/€60,000 to €32,000/€64,000 to begin the realignment of the threshold to average annual earnings. The current thresholds were set in 2006 and were aligned to the then average industrial wage.


Note for the Editor


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 and Equality 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. The current minimum remuneration thresholds for a CSEP are €30,000 and €60,000, differentiated by qualification and experience levels.

• 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, are eligible for an employment permit. For these occupations, the employer is required to undertake a Labour Market Needs Test (i.e. advertise the job for two weeks) 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 and Equality for long term residency permission. The current minimum remuneration thresholds for this permit type are €30,000 plus €27,500, €27,000 and €22,000 as exceptions for certain categories of employment.

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 highly skilled 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.

The Employment Permits (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations: Changes to Employment Permits System

• Additional Quota of 100 Employment Permits for Dairy Farm Assistants

An additional 100 General Employment Permits to be provided to the current quota for Dairy Farm Assistant. This represents a doubling of the initial allocation of 50 employment permits and will ensure that the sector remains committed in the medium to longer term to ensuring a steady supply of labour from within Ireland and across the EEA.

• Additional quotas for Meat deboners (300)

An additional 300 General Employment Permits to be provided to the current quota for Boner (Meat) which has been exhausted since 2018. This will ensure that the sector remains committed in the medium to longer term to ensuring a steady supply of labour from within Ireland and across the EEA and to investment in technological solutions to address labour challenges into the future.

Technical amendments

• Include private educational institutions for Teaching and Educational Professionals in ICT programmes on the critical skills occupation list

• Shorter validity of foreign national’s passport at first application

Amend the period of validity required on a foreign national’s passport from 12 months to six months, when applying for a first employment permit.

Recommendations of the Review of Economic Migration Policy ((2018)

• Amend the Labour Market Needs Test (LMNT) process by extending the duration of the DEASP/EURES advertisement from two to four weeks, commencing on 1st January 2020

This change to the Regulations extends the duration of the EEA-wide Labour Market Needs Test (LMNT) (via European Employment Service - EURES) from two weeks to four weeks. Such an extension to the LMNT period necessitates an extension of the 90-day rule to 120 days for academic institutions.

• Increase the minimum remuneration levels for Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) commencing on 1st January 2020

This change to the Regulations starts this process by increasing the threshold for the CSEP from €30,000/€60,000 to €32,000/€64,000, an increase of 6.7%. To allow for a lead in time to allow for a comprehensive information campaign with Stakeholders, the increased threshold will be introduced with effect from 1st January 2020.