Ireland remains a very open and welcoming country for non-Irish nationals in our Labour Force. Quarter 1 2012 labour market statistics show there are 274,000 non-Irish nationals in our labour force of just over 2 million. Ireland remains a very attractive location for Foreign Direct Investment. Favourable demographics and consistent investment in education ensure a plentiful supply of highly qualified workers with excellent technical, language and customer services capabilities, as well as a reputation for flexibility and innovation. In addition, Irish employers have access to the EU and EEA labour force in accordance with EU law on freedom of movement or Accession Treaties.
While there are currently no Government plans to introduce a special technology visa it is current Government policy to issue new employment permits in respect of jobs requiring key skills and where there is a recognised scarcity of suitably skilled workers. With regard to the specific issue of employment permits for specified highly skilled and strategically important occupations, where a skills shortage exists, Green Card employment permits may be issued. ICT professionals, professional engineers and technologists are specifically catered for under this scheme. The Green Card permit is issued to the employee and allows his or her employment in the State by the named employer in the occupation specified on the permit. It may be issued for a period of two years. The employee may apply for immediate family re-unification and an application for long-term residence may be made after two years. No labour market needs test (e.g. newspaper and FÁS/EURES advertising) is required prior to making an application. Up to 50% of staff employed by a company in Ireland may be employment permits holders.
The Department also operates an Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) scheme. This scheme is designed to facilitate the transfer of senior management, key personnel or trainees who are foreign nationals from an overseas branch of a multinational corporation to its Irish branch. Up to 5% of the entire workforce may have such ICT Permits. However for startups this level may be increased on a case by case basis for an initial period. No labour market needs test is required in respect of an application for an Intra-Company Transfer permit. Certain basic criteria must be met.
I should add that the Government is also guided by the Expert Group for Future Skills Needs and keeps its permit policy under review and can adapt to changing circumstances. A report produced by this Group entitled Addressing High-Level ICT Skills Recruitment Needs confirms that Ireland is a successful major centre for ICT operations with around 75,000 people employed in 8,000 companies. Indeed, ten of the top ICT companies in the world have substantial operations in Ireland.
The research undertaken by the Group, the Secretariat to which is provided by Forfás, indicates that the global ICT market is expected to grow by 5% between 2009 and 2014/15 with potential growth rate as high as 20% per annum over the next decade. In order to exploit these opportunities, however, it is crucial to ensure that Ireland's labour force is appropriately skilled. In this context the Group's report found that there are a range of skills and recruitment difficulties within the ICT sector with the result that, as at December 2011, there were approximately 1,800 vacancies in the sector. These vacancies arose mainly due to the lack of graduates with high-level ICT Honours Degrees and above which are required to fill such positions as Computer Software Engineers, ICT Network Specialists and Engineers, ICT Security Experts, ICT Telecommunications, ICT Project Managers and IT Sales and Marketing/Foreign Languages Skills Personnel. The report points out that this challenge is not unique to Ireland as such high level ICT skills are also in short supply globally.
In order to address these challenges from domestic sources I, along with my colleague, Deputy Ruairi Quinn, T.D., Minister for Education and Skills, subsequently launched the ICT Action Plan: Meeting the High Level ICT Skills Needs of Enterprise in Ireland. The Action Plan establishes an overreaching target of doubling the annual output from honours degree ICT undergraduate programmes to 2,000 graduates by 2018 and outlines a number of actions that will be implemented to ensure an increased output of appropriately skilled graduates in the medium term 2015-2018.