Over the past three years, the number of new work permits issued in respect of non-EEA workers including accession state nationals has been dropping from 29,500 in 2001 to 23,300 in 2002 and was just under 22,000 last year. Of these, it is estimated that more than 3,000 represent workers changing jobs each year. While the number of new permits has been falling, the annual number of renewals has been rising steadily from 6,500 renewals in 2001 to more than 25,000 last year.
One of the effects of accession will be that the demand for non-EEA labour is expected to reduce when, from 1 May 2004, employers will be able to hire workers directly from the accession states without the need for work permits. My Department is advising employers to source necessary foreign labour requirements from this source and preference is being given to work permits in respect of accession state nationals. It is expected that any increase in the inflow of accession state nationals will be offset by the reduction in permits issued in respect of non-EU nationals after 1 May 2004.
Several non-EU contractors are involved in major infrastructure projects in this country and have received work permits to employ non-EEA workers. Some of the work permits sought by these contractors are in respect of workers already in their employment abroad. While no information is available on the total number of such contractors, I am informed that the number is small.