Thursday, 25 October 2007
That is fine. A legitimate language school, the Dublin School of English, applied for a permit for one of its temporary employees to become a liaison officer. Management went through the necessary procedures, but was frustrated at all stages by bureaucracy in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It began the procedures, which everyone knows are contorted, by applying for a liaison interpreter for its approximately 300 Mongolian students and their families. It went to FÁS to draft an advertisement, but FÁS advised the school against the latter's will to advertise for an interpreter, not just a liaison officer. Consequently, life was made more difficult and the application was put into a narrow category when it came to considering the employment permit.
It was required that the category of job in question be advertised and sought for among EU nationals first, but it is ridiculous that a Mongolian interpreter should be an EU national. Management complied with the requirement and, having advertised in The Irish Times and through FÁS, received three replies, of which two were from EU nationals considered unsuitable. The position was not just that of an interpreter, but also of a liaison for Mongolian families to handle social problems and so forth, as was made clear to FÁS. The school wanted someone from Mongolia, it did not want any of the three applicants, which was reasonable for language, cultural and other reasons.
The school decided to make an application in the name of the person in question, but the Department refused on three grounds. First, the position is not highly skilled, but this assertion is tenuous given that the role has a salary of approximately €30,000 per year and at least two languages are required. Second, the applicant is not an EU citizen. The attempt to recruit an EU citizen was unsuccessful because no one suitable applied. The third reason was technical. While I am not conversant with the reason, the Minister of State may be. The person concerned had applied and entered the country under a student stamp rather than a category D visa. This may or may not be true.
Having countered the two initial reasons by stating it would be necessary to employ a Mongolian, no suitable EU citizens had applied and it was a highly skilled position, why can the third reason not be waived? It is a technical requirement that has been waived by successive Ministers at their discretion where it was thought suitable. I understand the reasons for the rules, but the Dublin School of English, a showpiece of a legitimate, thriving language organisation, has successfully made every effort to meet the first two of the Department's requirements. Why can the provision relating to the student stamp, a small red herring, not be waived as it has been previously?
I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, who has responsibility for work permits, I will provide a reply.
A significant number of non-EEA students pursue courses of study in third level institutions. Given our skill shortages in certain strategically important areas, the economy would benefit were some of these students to stay to work after graduation. These third level students may apply to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service to remain in Ireland for six months after receiving their examination results, allowing them time to seek employment and, if successful, to apply for a green card or work permit as appropriate. If students have been offered a job prior to completing their degrees, they may also apply for a permit.
The employment permits section of my Department informs me that an application in respect of the person in question was received on 26 June 2007. It was refused under section 12 of the Employment Permits Act 2006 on the basis that it appeared from the application that the person entered the country on a stamp two student visa and is, therefore, not eligible to enter the workforce on a full-time basis. The employment permits section of my Department would not be in a position to consider a work permit application unless the Garda National Immigration Bureau changed the foreign national's stamp. However, students on a stamp two student visa are entitled to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours per week outside of term.
The employer sought a review of the decision to refuse a permit in accordance with section 13 of the Act. The decision was reviewed by an appeals officer within the employment permit section who informed the employer that it was not possible to alter the decision based on the facts of the case. Under the Act, there is no provision for a further review of this decision of the appeals officer.
I draw the Senator's attention to the new economic migration and employment permits schemes that came into effect on 1 February 2007. In-depth consultations encompassing a wide range of stakeholders took place prior to the introduction of these arrangements. A particular aspect from the viewpoint of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was that persons present in the State on a particular status should, by and large, remain on that status. For example, if persons are in the State on a visit visa, they should not be allowed to remain in the State for a different purpose, such as entering the workforce. Persons in the State for the purposes of study should not per se be allowed to enter the workforce on a full-time basis.
The Senator will know there are particular arrangements for students who wish to work. These arrangements strike the right balance between enabling foreign students to enter the country for the purpose of study and allowing them to finance themselves if necessary in order to live here during their study period. The fundamental principle is that students are here to study and by definition not here to work. Where students wish to enter the workforce on a full-time basis, they are treated the same as any other non-EEA national and, accordingly, it is necessary for applicants to be outside the State for my Department to consider employment permit applications. If we entertain the possibility of allowing students to enter full-time employment, we run the risk of allowing persons into the workforce by the back door and thus weakening the Government's accession responsibility of community preference, which entails preferential treatment for entry by EEA nationals to the labour market.
I have noted the Senator's comments on the other reasons the person was refused and will have further inquiries made in the Department and revert to the Senator when I receive a reply.
While I accept that, it reflects the poor service this House gets from Ministers. A Minister capable in his own remit is sent in and has to plead before us that the matter is not in his remit. The person taking the adjournment does not know the brief. It is not his fault, but he comes in to handle a brief about which he knows nothing. That is not a respectful way to behave towards this House.