I propose to take Questions Nos. 1033, 1040, 1042 and 1043 together.
Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration and 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. Only where specific skills prove difficult to source within the State and wider EEA, may an employment permit be sought by an employer to hire a non-EEA national.
There are two Employment Permit Acts and one Amendment Act on the statute books – the Employment Permit Acts 2003 and 2006, and the Employment Permits (Amendment) Act 2014. The relevant secondary legislation comprises the Employment Permits Regulations 2017, SI 95 of 2017, which consolidated the previous Employment Permit Regulations and amended Employment Permit Regulations enacted in 2018 and in 2019 (Employment Permits (Amendment) Regulations 2018, SI 70 of 2018, Employment Permits (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2018, SI 163 0f 2018, Employment Permits (Amendment)(No. 3) Regulations 2018, SI 318 of 2018, Employment Permits (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2018, SI 550 of 2018, Employment Permits (Amendment) Regulations 2019, SI 138 of 2019 and Employment Permits (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2019, SI 333 of 2019).
The Review of Economic Migration Policy which was completed in 2018 found that, overall, the State’s vacancy-led employment permits system provided a robust basis for the management of economic migration, but that the current legislation imposed a degree of inflexibility on the operation of the system. The review made a range of recommendations including recommending changes to the Employment Permits Acts 2003-2014.
Work has begun on consolidating the existing legislative framework and on identifying the changes required to implement the legislative recommendations in the review. This is a priority for me and I have asked my officials to complete this work as soon as possible, so that drafting of the new Employment Permits Bill can commence. It would be my intention to publish the revised Employment Permit Bill later this year.
The Employment Permits legislation prescribes a range of criteria when considering an application for an employment permit including a Labour Market Needs Test (LMNT) with the provision that employers must advertise in National Newspapers. The recent Review recommended modernization of the LMNT process by broadening the range of advertising methods to reflect modern advertising tools. This will be addressed in the new Employment Permit legislation.
The occupation lists for employment permit purposes are subject to twice-yearly review which examines labour market conditions at occupation level. The process involves in-depth examination of the research and labour market intelligence undertaken by the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (Solas), the Expert Group of Future Skills Needs, and the National Skills Council, review of relevant Reports, education outputs and initiatives, sectoral upskilling and training initiatives and any known contextual factors. The observations and input of relevant Government Departments are also incorporated in addition to a public consultation process. Submissions received are also considered by the Economic Migration Policy Interdepartmental Group chaired by my Department.
In order to have the status of an occupation changed to make it eligible for an employment permit, there needs to be a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages of appropriate personnel across the EEA and not to other factors such as salary and/or employment conditions. Organisations in the sector need to provide the necessary data to substantiate their claims.
The most recent review of the occupation lists concluded in April 2019 with changes made to lists to in respect of occupations in the construction, transport and sports sectors. The mid year review is now underway, with the call for submissions to the review closing on 12th July. Some 30 submissions have been received. It is expected that this review will be finalised before the end of September.
In May 2018, following a comprehensive review of the data and evidence available, and consideration of a detailed business case by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as the lead policy Department for the sector, a pilot quota-based scheme was introduced to remove the occupations of horticulture worker, meat processing operative and dairy farm assistant from the ineligible occupations list. The quotas introduced were 500, 1500 and 50 respectively. The scheme allows workers from non-EEA countries to access employment opportunities here. The scheme has been very successful; to date some 203 employment permits for horticulture workers have been granted while the quota for dairy farm assistants has been exhausted. .
Consideration is been given to a detailed evidenced based business case submitted by the dairy sector requesting an extension to the pilot scheme in which they outlined the labour shortages and recruitment challenges in the industry. I expect to be in a position to make an decision very shortly on this request.
Submissions in relation to the Pig and Poultry sectors were received as part of the current review of occupations lists, on 12th July, and are being considered as part of that process.