Thursday, 12 May 2022
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
165. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the current processing time for work permit applications; his plans to reform the current scheme due to labour shortages within sectors of the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23966/22]
Ireland operates a managed employment permits system which maximises the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland’s labour market. The system is intended to act as a conduit for key skills which are required to develop enterprise in the State for the benefit of our economy, while simultaneously protecting the balance of the labour market. The system is, by design, vacancy led and driven by the changing needs of the labour market, expanding and contracting in tandem with its inherent fluctuations.
The State’s general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within the workforce of the State and other EEA states. However, where specific skills prove difficult to source within the EEA, an employment permit may be sought in respect of a non-EEA national who possess those skills.
The employment permit system is managed through the operation of the critical skills and the ineligible occupations lists which determine employments that are either in high demand or are ineligible for consideration for an employment permit. In order to maintain the relevance of these lists of occupations to the needs of the economy, they undergo twice-yearly evidence-based reviews. These reviews are guided by research undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), the Skills and the Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU), SOLAS and include a public consultation process and extensive consultation with other Government Departments through the Interdepartmental Group on Economic Migration Policy. Account is taken of education outputs, sectoral upskilling and training initiatives and known contextual factors such as Brexit and, in the current context, COVID-19 and their impact on the labour market.
My Department experienced a significant increase in applications for employment permits in the past year, impacting on processing times. From the start of January to the end of December 2021, some 27,666 applications were received, representing a 69% increase over the same period in 2020 (16,293) and a 47% increase on 2019 (18,811), which itself represented an 11 year high in applications. 16,275 employment permits were issued in 2021, with a total of 17,968 applications processed which represents a significant volume of activity. The increased demand was also driven by the extension of categories of employment permits, in particular for the agricultural sector, following the Review of the Occupational Lists announced in October 2021. This included 3,000 permits made available to the agricultural sector.
My Department recognises the impact delays on the processing times for work permits has for businesses and their workers and has developed a plan of action to reduce processing times built up over the pandemic. The plan includes both additional staffing and systemic changes. The processing team has trebled in size and daily output has more than tripled compared to 2021 levels. Internal processes have been streamlined and initiatives introduced which are all having an impact.
Since the implementation of this plan, the Employment Permits Unit has made positive progress to reduce the current backlog reducing the number of applications awaiting processing from c.11,000 in January 2022 to under 6,500 to date.
As new staff were trained on Critical Skills and Intra Corporate Transfer Employment Permits, processing times for those permits have fallen from 21 weeks to 6 weeks.
All flexible resources have now been redeployed to address processing times for General Employment permit applications which currently stand at 22 weeks. My Department expects to see a consistent strong fall in waiting times for General Employment Permits, from mid-May, with processing times considerably reduced by end Q2. In Q3 my Department will continue to drive down waiting times across all permit types.
Full details on current processing times are published on my Department’s website - Current processing dates for employment permits - DETE (enterprise.gov.ie).