News & Events

Minister Humphreys announces changes to the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area

  • Changes to address immediate labour shortages in key sectors such as hospitality, construction, health and road haulage.
  • All chef grades now eligible for an employment permit.
  • All nurses can now qualify for a Critical Skills Employment Permit.
  • The changes are evidence-based and follow the second review of the employment permits system in 2019.
  • Reviews happen twice a year to ensure the system remains flexible and responsive.

Minister Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation has today announced changes to the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) following a comprehensive review. 

Ireland operates a managed employment permit system through occupation lists, namely the Critical Skills and Ineligible Lists of Occupations, which are reviewed twice a year. This is an evidence-based process that takes account of labour market conditions and submissions from sectors and other stakeholders together with contextual factors. The purpose of the system is to maximise the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting the Irish labour market. 

The changes, which will come into effect from 1st January 2020, will address immediate labour shortages in key sectors such as hospitality, construction, health and road haulage. The changes mean that: 

  • All chef grades are now eligible for an employment permit and the occupation will no longer be subject to quotas.
  • All nurses can now qualify for a Critical Skills Employment Permit, which brings immediate family reunification, broad access to the Irish labour market for family members and a fast track to long term residency after 2 years.
  • Most professional occupations in the construction sector can now qualify for a Critical Skills Employment Permit. Technician and construction support occupations, such as Foreman, Architectural Technician and Construction Safety Officer, can qualify for a General Employment Permit.
  • Other changes include an extension of the quota for HGV drivers by 200. 

Commenting on the changes, Minister Humphreys said

A strong economy and full employment present their own challenges as labour shortages in certain sectors demonstrate. I am pleased to announce these changes, which will fill immediate gaps in businesses across a range of sectors. The employment lists are reviewed twice a year so that we can be as flexible as possible in an evolving labour market. The changes are evidence-based and take into account that we still have 4.8% unemployed in Ireland and 6.3% in the EU28. The sectors involved have had to prove that they are making every effort to recruit staff domestically and train up workers. Ultimately this is the primary way of dealing with labour shortages in the longer term.”

1. Hospitality 

Since March 2018, all chef grades with experience have been eligible for an employment permit with the exception of Commis Chefs. Today the Minister has removed the occupation of Commis Chef (with two years’ experience) from the Ineligible Occupations List, meaning that all chef grades are now eligible.

Hospitality is a very important sector in Ireland. It directly employs 152,000 people and employment in tourism is projected to be 310,000 by 2025.  In terms of overall economic activity, accommodation and food services activities account for around €3 billion of total gross value added in the economy.

The Minister said:

Chefs account for the highest number of vacancies in the hospitality sector and the shortage of Commis Chefs is feeding into shortages at higher and specialist levels. This announcement will ensure that the capacity gap is filled in the short-term through the employment permit system.” 

Taking into account the pressures on the sector, the Minister has also decided that the occupation of chef will no longer be subject to a quota. Previously there was a cap of 610 permits. This change will be kept under regular review to ensure that there are no adverse effects on opportunities for those in the industry within Ireland and across the EEA and those exiting training programmes seeking employment in the sector.

In addition, the current cap of two chef permits per establishment is no longer applicable.

2. Construction

Labour demand in the construction sector is outstripping supply in a number of occupations. This is due to a number of factors including the impact of the downturn on the outflow of graduates and trainees from the education system, as well as emigration and career change. To enable the industry to fill the capacity and skills gaps in the short to medium term, the Minister has moved most professional occupations in the sector to the Critical Skills Occupations List. She has also removed technician grades and construction support occupations, such as Architectural Technician and Construction Safety Officer, from the Ineligible Occupations List.

The Minister said:

I am making these changes because I acknowledge the challenges facing the sector in meeting objectives under Rebuilding Ireland, Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and the Climate Action Plan. Investment is predicted to increase to €41 billion by 2023 with growth expected to average at 16% in 2019

In the longer term, I expect the sector to continue to develop strategies to reskill and recruit from the domestic and EEA labour market and invest in innovation wherever possible.”

3. Health

The Minister is also addressing an anomaly of the system in respect of nurses. The change will allow all nurses from outside the EEA to qualify for a Critical Skills Employment Permit – the most favourable type of work permit – which brings immediate family reunification, broad access to the Irish labour market for family members and a fast track to long term residency after 2 years.

Currently non-EEA nurses fall into two categories, those with a nursing degree and those with a nursing diploma. As it stands, nurses with degree qualifications can access the Critical Skills Employment Permit, while those with a diploma can only access a General Employment Permit. This type of permit only allows for family reunification after 12 months and family members cannot automatically access the labour market. 

Minister Humphreys said:

This an obvious anomaly where you can have two nurses working side by side in a ward, one of whom has their family here in Ireland and another who has to wait a year. This isn’t fair and the system needs to change.

In order to attract the best and brightest to come to work and live in Ireland as opposed to a competitor country, we need to offer an attractive range of benefits to both the highly-skilled workers and their families. The research shows that in a high percentage of cases where foreign nationals leave a country earlier than planned, it is because their spouses or partners could not find work.”

4. Other Sectors

Other changes to the system include an extension of the quota for HGV drivers by 200. Shortages in this sector are an EEA-wide challenge. The sector, through the Logistics and Supply Chain Skills Group, is seeking to improve career development, training and upskilling across the whole transport and logistics sector.

In addition, a Sectoral Working Group is being established to develop a sustainable labour strategy for the meat processing sector into the future. The Working Group will agree terms of reference before the end of March 2020 with the group established before the end of June 2020. As a result of the establishment of this Working Group, the quota of employment permits for meat processing operatives is being extended by 1000.

In making this decision, consideration was also given to a detailed business case submitted by the meat processing sector regarding their continuing labour challenges, which are due to a combination of the move into new markets, the impact on labour availability that the growth in employment in other sectors is having and the improving economies in eastern Europe. 

ENDS

Notes for Editor

Background

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. 
  • 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 four weeks from 1st January 2020) 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.  

Remuneration Threshold for the Critical Skills and General Employment Permits 

  • With effect from 1st January 2020, the minimum salary threshold for  Critical Skills Employment Permits (CSEP) will be €32,000 per annum for occupations on the critical skills lists and a degree  and €64,000 per annum for eligible occupations. For the General Employment Permits (for which occupations that have been removed from the Ineligible Occupations List can qualify) is  generally €30,000. plus €27,500, €27,000 and €22,000 as exceptions for certain categories of employment. 

For further information :

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 critical skilled 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;
  • the skill shortage exists across the occupation, despite attempts by industry to train and attract Irish/EEA nationals to available jobs. 

Submission process

In order to maintain the relevance of these lists of occupations to the needs of the economy, a bi-annual review process is applied.  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.  The next review is planned for early in 2020, and a call for submissions from interested parties will be posted at dbei.gov.ie when it commences. 

Changes to the Occupation Lists  

The Critical Skills Occupations List will now include:

  • Site Manager
  • Structural / Site Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineers for all sectors (previously restricted to certain sectors)
  • Electrical Engineers (previously restricted to certain sectors)
  • Setting Out Engineer
  • Façade Designer
  • Architect
  • Architectural Technologists  

The following occupations will be removed from the Ineligible Occupations List and will be eligible for a General Employment Permit:

  • Commis Chef
  • Safety Manager
  • Building, Civil and Structural Engineering Technicians
  • Architectural Technician 
  • Draughtspersons
  • Construction Safety Officers
  • Foreman 

The following are the Increases to current quota exemptions on the Ineligible Occupations List

  • Heavy Goods Vehicle Driver increased by 200
  • Meat Processing Operative increased by 1000 

Changes to Chef grades

The grades of Chef currently eligible for employment permits is to be extended to include the role of Commis Chef with two years’ experience.  The requirement to have two years’ experience will ensure there is no adverse effect on training uptake or job opportunities for trainee chefs entering the labour market.  Therefore,  the  commis chef grade with two years’ experience will be added to the list of eligible chef grades (executive chef, head chef and sous chef with five years’ experience and chef de partie with two years’ experience. )

Based on the evidence and acknowledgement of significant labour shortages experienced in the sector, it has been decided that the additional criteria of a quota is no longer a necessary restriction for this occupation and therefore the further criteria of a new permit cap per establishment is now redundant.  This change will be kept under review to ensure that there are no adverse effects on the labour market opportunities for those in the industry in the State/EEA and those exiting a training scheme and seeking to take up employment in the sector.

Changes for Nurses

The occupations Nurses and Midwives are recognised as skills in short supply in Ireland and are currently listed on the critical skills occupations list and are eligible for a Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP).  However, the criteria attached to this permit type includes the requirement for a degree level qualification or higher in the relevant field if the remuneration on offer is between €32,000 and €64,000 per annum ( from 1st January 2020). Nurses cannot work in Ireland without registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) 

A non-EEA nurse who has been awarded a relevant diploma level qualification in their home country are equally eligible to become qualified to practice nursing in Ireland and are eligible to be awarded registration by the NMBI however are currently not eligible to apply for a CSEP as they do not meet the degree level qualification requirement.  Nurses with a diploma qualification are granted a General Employment Permits (GEP) which does not have the same provisions as a CSEP such as immediate family reunification and immediate access to the labour market for family members.

This has given rise to an anomaly with registered nurses working side by side undertaking the same duties; one on a CSEP and one on a GEP.  The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has consulted with the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality, the HSE and NMBI to address this issue. Changes introduced in these regulations will facilitate eligibility for Critical Skills Employment Permits to all qualified, registered NMBI nurses, including non-EEA nurses with nursing diploma qualifications. 

Agri-Food Sector

An additional quota of 1000 General Employment Permits for the Meat Processing sector will be introduced following consideration of a detailed business case submitted by the meat processing sector. In addition, a sectoral working group is to be established before the end of June 2020 to develop a sustainable labour strategy for the meat processing sector into the future. This Working Group will agree terms of reference before the end of March 2020 with the group established before the end of June 2020.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) plays a key role in implementing the Government’s policies of stimulating the productive capacity of the economy and creating an environment which supports job creation and maintenance. The Department has lead responsibility for Irish policy on global trade and inward investment and a remit to promote fair competition in the marketplace, protect consumers and safeguard workers.

For further information please contact Press Office, D/Business, Enterprise and Innovation, press.office@dbei.gov.ie or (01) 631 2200

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