I propose to take Questions Nos. 286 and 299 together.
As the economy improves and as we approach full employment, in recognising the changing labour market situation, I requested my Department to conduct a review of economic migration policies underpinning the current employment permits system to ensure that our policies are fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages in certain sectors. A full report of the review will be presented shortly and will provide recommendations on a framework for the future operation of the employment permits regime.
Where specific skills prove difficult to source within the State and wider EEA, an employment permit may be sought by an employer to hire a non-EEA national subject to the Employment Permits Acts and Regulations.
The employment permits system is managed in part through the operation of the highly skilled and ineligible occupation lists for the purpose of grant of employment permits. Changes to access to the Irish labour market for specific occupations via the employment permits system are made on the basis of research undertaken by the Expert Group of Future Skills Needs and, coordinated by the National Skills Council, the annual National Skills Bulletin and the annual Vacancy Overview Report in tandem with a public consultation process.
It is expected that a review of the lists of occupations for employment permits will be conducted in the second half of this year. Healthcare assistants are currently included on the Ineligible Categories of Employment List (ICEL). In order to remove a skill from this list, there would need to be a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA and not to other factors such as salary and/or employment conditions. Organisations in the sector would need to provide the necessary data to substantiate their claims. A detailed evidence-based case for removal of care workers from the ineligible list, based on this detailed data would then need to be put forward by the Department of Health, as the lead Department for the sector, to my Department for review and consideration.
I am aware that my colleague, Minister of State Daly, with special responsibility for Older People, has had various meetings with the nursing home sector and this matter has been discussed. I understand Minister Daly is willing to work with the industry on this important issue to ensure continuity of service in the best interests of residents.