Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, who sends his apologies. I thank the Senator for raising this matter, which is pertinent and timely. Policy responsibility for the granting of visa permissions is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice. The employment permits system is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and labour shortages, or both, in the short to medium term, in circumstances where there are no suitably qualified Irish or EEA nationals available to undertake the work and where the shortage is a genuine one.
The system is managed through the operation of the critical skills occupations list and the ineligible occupations list. These are subject to twice-yearly evidence-based reviews in consultation with other Departments, sectoral representatives and the economic migration interdepartmental group. Where shortages are clearly evidenced, the employment permit system is flexible enough to address them in real time. The current review will close by the end of October with a final report setting out recommendations for approval.
The employment permits (consolidation and amendment) Bill consolidates the existing legislation to provide a more accessible statutory basis for our economic migration system. Specific changes include the introduction of a seasonal employment permit, modernising the labour market needs test, moving operational criteria to regulations to increase responsiveness, and streamlining requirements to make the grant process more efficient. The draft Bill is almost finalised and we await the report of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment before bringing a memorandum to Government to seek approval to publish.
Recently, as the Senator has alluded to, processing times have been impacted by a significant increase in demand and by the HSE cyberattack. These factors resulted in a significant additional administrative burden in dealing with applications associated with the July doctors' rotation which were submitted either manually or by other non-standard methods. It is also worth noting that there was a 41% increase in the number of permits issued to the end of September when compared with the same period last year. It is important to point out that when set against other international employment permit regimes, Ireland continues to compare extremely favourably. However, my Department is conscious of the recent lengthening of timeframes for processing applications and is taking a range of measures to clear the backlog as quickly as possible. This includes the redevelopment of the current employment permits IT system, which should drive further efficiencies in processing and result in increased productivity. My Department advises employers to take current timelines into account as part of their recruitment plans.