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Minister English announces measures to address skill shortages in agriculture, transport and home care sectors

Dairy farm assistants, bus and coach drivers, and home carers now eligible for employment permits

Damien English TD, Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, has today announced changes to the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to address skills shortages in Ireland’s Dairy, Transport and Home Care sectors.

Minister English said:

“I am delighted to announce further changes to the employment permit system that will help ease the recruitment challenges being experienced in the agriculture, transport and home care sectors.”

The changes, which will come into effect from today, follow constructive engagement between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the Department of Transport and the Department of Health in recent months, and a review of the workforce challenges in these sectors.

These measures will help alleviate the pressures being faced by farmers in the dairy sector, who have struggled to source workers in the local economy. Evidence provided by consultation with the ICMSA and the Farm Relief Service points to significant recruitment challenges and the introduction of this quota will be particularly welcome as we approach the busy calving season.

The measures in respect of home carers follow the establishment of the cross-departmental Strategic Workforce Advisory Group in March 2022 to examine strategic workforce challenges in publicly and privately provided frontline carer roles in home care and long-term residential care for older people. The Group’s report contained 16 recommendations spanning areas of recruitment, pay and conditions, barriers to employment, training and professional development and sectoral reform, and included a recommendation to establish a quota of 1,000 employment permits for home carers.

The Government is strongly committed to providing all citizens with reliable and sustainable mobility options, and the establishment of a quota of 1,500 employment permits for bus and coach drivers will help address the recruitment challenges being faced by the sector.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said:

“I am delighted that changes to these employment permits have now been introduced. Transport providers have experienced significant difficulties in recruiting bus and coach drivers in recent months, which has unfortunately impacted on service delivery across the public transport network. I believe that these changes will help with the recruitment challenges currently being experienced by operators. It will also help ensure that we can continue to extend and develop our public transport programme throughout the country, which is central to our climate ambitions.”

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, welcomed the allocation of general employment permits for dairy farm operatives:

“Minister of State Martin Heydon and I have ongoing engagement with the dairy sector stakeholders and have worked closely with our colleagues in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on this issue. We are acutely aware of the staffing challenges on some farms and we are moving to address this. Spring can be a very challenging time on dairy farms and this announcement today will allow dairy farmers time to arrange to have the necessary labour in place for the busy calving season.”

Minister of State Martin Heydon TD, who has responsibility for farm safety said:

“These permits are very welcome, balancing workload with labour supply is critical to addressing work-life balance for farmers and reducing the risk of farm safety incidents.”

Welcoming the removal of home carers from the Government’s Ineligible Occupations List to enable the international recruitment of home care workers, Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler TD, commented:

“Addressing the critical shortage of care-workers in Ireland is an urgent priority for the Government. We need to ensure that everybody with care needs has those needs met in a timely and responsive manner. The authorisation of 1,000 employment-permits for non-EU/EEA home carers announced today, will make a significant contribution to addressing this challenge.”

Minister English concluded:

“Our economic migration policy accommodates the arrival of non-EEA nationals to fill skills and labour gaps in the domestic economy in the short to medium term. My Department reviews the system regularly, working across Government to promote an integrated approach to address labour and skills shortages in the longer term. Where shortages are clearly evidenced, the employment permit system is flexible enough to address these shortages in a timely manner.”

Employers will be eligible to apply for the employment permits once they have run the required advertisements for 28 days after today. Current processing time for employment permits is between 3 and 5 business days.


Notes for 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 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 sufficient Irish/EEA workers to fill such vacancies. Employment permits are not granted for these occupations.
  • 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 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. 

The Critical Skills and Ineligible Occupations Lists Review

It is vital that the employment permits scheme is 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 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.

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. 

Submission process

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. 

Changes announced today

  • A quota of 1,000 General Employment Permits for the role of care workers and home carers has been introduced. This role is listed under code 6145 on the Standard Occupational Categorisation list. The permits will be issued for two years and require a minimum annual remuneration of €27,000 based on a 39-hour week, and a minimum full QQI Level 5 qualification in health and social care or equivalent or successfully completed a full QQI Level 5 qualification (or higher qualification) in health and social care within 2 years of permit issue. There will be a requirement for a 4-hour minimum continuous shift length.
  • The quota of General Employment Permits for the role of dairy farm assistant has been increased by 500. A minimum annual remuneration of €30,000, based on a 39-hour week, is required.
  • A quota of 1500 employment permits is being introduced for the role of bus and coach drivers. A minimum annual remuneration of €30,000 based on a 39-hour week is required, and drivers must hold driving licence categories D, DE, D1 and D1E or recognised equivalent.