The State’s general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within the workforce of the European Union and other EEA states. 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).
In times of economic prosperity, the eligible occupation categories are usually broadened to provide for an expanding economy, labour market shortages and skills needs. During a period of economic decline, the eligible occupation categories are narrowed and other restrictions are 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 will still issue to non-EEA nationals where it can be demonstrated that their expertise is required or would be beneficial.
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.
Labour Supply & Community Preference
While employment growth is strong, Ireland’s labour supply remains adequate, though there are some sectors where the availability of appropriately skilled labour is tightening. The average unemployment rate is falling in other EEA states which had previously represented a source for workers, and this presents a challenge for enterprises in a number of sectors.
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. However, in the interest of preventing the risk that skills or labour supply constriction might represent to specific sectors, a Review of Economic Migration Policy was undertaken in 2018, resulting in a range of recommendations to increase the responsiveness and utility of the employment permits system. A copy of the report is available here.
A key factor for economic growth in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and other policy instruments 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 up-skilling 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.
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 Business, Enterprise and Innovation 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.
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.
Employment Permits Section
16 January 2019