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News & Events

Minister English to modernise the Employment Permits system

  • More responsive system for Ireland’s evolving labour market
  • New permit for seasonal employment to be introduced
  • Salary thresholds to be index-linked
  • Bill to be published in Autumn

The Minister for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD today announced that Government will publish a new law which will help to modernise the Employment Permit system in Ireland.

Minister English said:

“With a record 2.5 million plus people at work in Ireland, the new Employment Permits Bill will allow us to better compete for global talent, to fill labour market gaps, to support local enterprises and to encourage Foreign Direct Investment while at the same time protecting the rights of workers in the State.”

“Although the current system is robust, the existing legislation is inflexible in its operation. The new law will increase the agility and responsiveness of the employment permits system, modernise it and ensure that it can adapt rapidly to changes in the Irish labour market.”

“The proposed changes are intended to improve the system’s flexibility without changing the core goal of synchronising the skills and labour needs in the economy, while prioritising the Irish and EEA labour pool.”

The new Bill has been developed partly in response to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s Review of Economic Migration Policy (2018) and in response to a recent increase in demand for Employment Permits by the business community in Ireland to secure suitably skilled people for their operations.

In order to improve usability, the new law will consolidate the Employment Permits Acts of 2003 and 2006 and the 2014 Amendment Act into a single piece of legislation.

The Bill will move operational detail to Regulations thus making it easier to modify the rules, as circumstances require.  The new system will also make it easier to mirror changes to recruitment practices as they evolve.

A Seasonal Employment Permit will be introduced which will allow for a short-term employment permit to cater for short-stay and recurrent employment situations in sectors where this type of employment occurs.

Salary thresholds will be index-linked to ensure they at least keep in line with wage growth in Ireland.

The legislation will provide for additional conditions, such as training or upskilling, to be attached to the granting of an employment permit.

New provisions will also enable subcontractors registered here to access the employment permit system, in recognition of modern labour market practices and value chains.

Minister English concluded:

“While a responsive and agile Employment Permit policy and system is hugely important in addressing some of our skills deficits, the Government will also continue to prioritise the upskilling our own talent pool with an emphasis on lifelong learning, as well as maximising the use of suitable talent in the EEA.”

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.  

The Occupations Lists

The employment permits system is managed through the use of lists designating highly skilled and ineligible occupations. The lists are reviewed regularly 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 regularly 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. 
  • Ineligible occupations are those with evidence that there are more than enough Irish/EEA workers to fill such vacancies.
  • 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 (i.e. advertise the job four weeks) and if no-one suitable applies for the job, the employer is free to apply for an employment permit.

 The Employment Permits Bill 2022

A Review of Economic Migration Policy undertaken in 2018 concluded that, while the employment permits system provides a robust framework to supplement skills and labour needs in the State, the current legislation imposes considerable inflexibility in its operation.

In order to increase the agility and responsiveness of the system, to modernise it and to ensure that it is capable of adapting to rapid changes in the needs of the labour market of the future and to fluctuation in demand contingent on the economic cycle, the Review recommended that new legislation be initiated, and the Government approved the General Scheme consolidating and amending previous employment Permits legislation.

This General Scheme incorporates both specific and general recommendations of the Review, while retaining the core focus of a vacancy led employment permits system oriented to meeting of the skills and labour needs in the State. The conclusions of the Review endorsed the robust fundamental structure of the existing system. The changes proposed are concerned with increasing its agility and effectiveness, while retaining the key policy focus of supporting the economy and the labour market through evidence-based decision making.

In addition to consolidating the existing legislation to make a more accessible statutory basis for our economic migration system, specific changes in this General Scheme include:

  • the introduction of a seasonal employment permit
  • extensive revision of the labour market needs test to make it more relevant and efficient
  • moving of operational criteria to Regulations, and the streamlining of a number of requirements to make the grant process more efficient
  • providing for additional conditions for grant of an employment permit, such as training or accommodation support for migrant workers in some circumstances, or making innovation or upskilling a condition of grant, where this may decrease future reliance on economic migration

The Bill will be published in the Houses of the Oireachtas at the earliest opportunity.