I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 76 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 employment permits regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and/or labour shortages in the State, required to develop and support enterprise for the benefit of our economy. However, this objective must be balanced by the need to ensure that there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one.
The employment permits system is managed through the operation of the critical skills and ineligible occupations lists which determine employments that are either in high demand or are ineligible for consideration for an employment permit and these lists are subject to twice-yearly evidenced based review.
Since March 2020, my Department has implemented Covid-19 contingency arrangements moving employment permit operations seamlessly to a totally remote working environment. Feedback received from enterprise across the board has been universally positive. In fact, Ireland was one of the few countries that has managed to keep their employment permit system fully operational throughout the crisis.
From the outset of the crisis, in order to assist the HSE and all other medical providers in the State to respond to, and to assist with, the public health response to the threat of Covid-19, all medical employment permits are expedited with immediate effect.
My Department has seen a significant increase in applications for employment permits this year. To the end of August, some 14,624 applications were received, representing a 35% increase over the same period in 2020 (10,772) and a 19% increase on 2019 (12,276). Some 9,526 employment permits were issued over this period.
Processing times have been impacted by this increase in demand but also because of the HSE cyber-attack. As a result, employment permit applications associated with the July Doctors rotation (which occurs twice yearly in January and July) had to be submitted either manually or through other nonstandard methods. This resulted in a significant additional administrative burden in dealing with these applications, requiring staff to be temporarily reassigned to assist in the process and had a direct impact on wider processing times for other permit applications.
It is important to point out that when set against other international employment permit regimes, Ireland continues to compare extremely favourably, even at current processing times.
However, my Department is very conscious of the recent lengthening of timeframes for processing Employment Permit applications and is taking a range of measures to reduce the current backlog as quickly as possible. It advises employers to take current timelines into account as part of their recruitment plans.
My Department updates the employment permit processing timelines on its website on a weekly basis and regularly issues updates on relevant employment permit matters to Trusted Partners such as the recent update on employment permit processing timelines.
Regarding Ireland's attractiveness for foreign direct Investment, Ireland continues to remain a highly attractive destination for companies seeking to invest, with 142 investments won up to the end of Q2 2021. These investments provide employment potential of over 12,500 jobs. It is also encouraging to see that during the first half of 2021 investment continued with 62 new name investments. All this reflects foreign direct investment employment creation plans approaching the record levels of 2019.