Tuesday, 16 November 2004
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Future Employment Needs
Question 84: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of non-Irish workers which will be needed to sustain the economy here over the next three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28391/04]
Question 121: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the information available to him on the expected level of labour force requirements over the coming years; the extent to which this can be met from within this country and the extent to which labour from abroad may be required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28345/04]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 84 and 121 together.
Arising from our membership of the European Union, Ireland is part of the integrated labour market of the European Economic Area, EEA, comprising the 25 member states of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and, effectively, Switzerland. Nationals of these states have freedom of movement to come to work in Ireland, and Irish employers can employ such persons without the requirement to obtain a work permit.
Future economic migration to Ireland from outside the EEA will, therefore, be the residual component of total immigration. In effect, it will reflect the degree to which Irish employers cannot recruit the requisite skills from within the EEA labour market, which is in excess of 220 million with an estimated 20 million workers unemployed.
This position corresponds with the recent conclusions of the migrant workers options review group, a working group set up under Sustaining Progress, comprising representatives of employer bodies and unions. It is also borne out by the development of economic migration to Ireland over recent years, as the following statistics show.
Irish economic migration peaked in 2001 when over 29,000 new first-time work permits were granted. By 2003 the number granted had fallen to under 22,000. Experience in 2004 suggests that the enlarged EU can indeed supply the greater portion of our continuing overseas labour needs. Recent figures from the Department of Social and Family Affairs show that more than 40,000 nationals of the ten new member states of the EU have been allocated personal public service numbers in the period from 1 May, the date of EU enlargement, to mid-October 2004. Most of these nationals would come to Ireland for the purposes of employment.
Furthermore, while almost 29,000 work permits have been granted to date in 2004, fewer than 6,000 of these were in respect of new permits granted to non-EEA nationals. This very significant reduction, together with the arrival of a large pool of personnel from the new member states suggests that we can, indeed, meet the great bulk of our future needs from within the EEA.
I do not anticipate that in future years the numbers in question from outside the EEA will differ to any significant extent from our experience this year. In point of fact, the majority of non-EEA nationals coming to work in Ireland in future years will be in the high-skilled, high-paid category, which are critical to our economic development needs. To this end, my Department, in conjunction with FÃS and the expert group on future skill needs, intends to make a detailed assessment of likely future skill shortages in the post EU enlargement situation, in which we now find ourselves.