I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 101 together.
The State’s general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within the workforce of the European Union and other EEA states. However, where specific skills prove difficult to source within the EEA, an employment permit may be sought in respect of a non-EEA national who possess those skills. This policy fulfils our obligations under the Community Preference principles of membership of the EU. Under the Employment Permit Acts in order to work in the State all non-EEA nationals require a valid employment permit or relevant immigration permission from the Minister for Justice which allows them to reside and work in the State without the requirement for an Employment Permit.
Employment permit policy is part of the response to addressing skills deficits which exist and are likely to continue into the medium term, but it is not intended over the longer term to act as a substitute for meeting the challenge of up-skilling the State’s resident workforce. In order to meet this demand, the Government is committed to building and retaining a highly skilled workforce to serve the needs of the economy and has introduced a series of initiatives focused on workforce upskilling of new workforce entrants and those made redundant by the pandemic.
All applications are processed in line with the Employment Permits Act 2006, as amended and are dependent on a job offer from an Irish registered Employer for an eligible occupation. It should be noted that the State's employment permit system is ordered by the use of occupation lists which determine which employments are highly demanded and which are ineligible for consideration for employment permits at a point in time. These lists are reviewed on a twice-yearly basis.
To assist applicants when applying for an employment permit checklist documents have been prepared. Notably, checklist documents have been specifically prepare to assistant applicants when applying for a General Employment Permit for the roles of Chef and Hospitality Manager and these, inter alia, are available on the Department's website through the following link - Employment Permits Checklists - DETE (enterprise.gov.ie).
There has been a significant increase in applications for employment permits over the course of 2021 and into 2022 which has impacted on processing times. From the start of January 2021 to the end of December 2021, some 27,666 applications were received, representing a 69% increase over the same period in 2020 (16,293) and a 47% increase on 2019 (18,811), which itself represented an 11 year high in applications.
The increased demand was also driven by the extension of categories of employment permits following the Review of the Occupational Lists in October 2021. Processing times were also impacted as a result of the HSE cyber-attack which had a direct effect on employment permit applications associated with the July 2021 Doctors rotation, which had to be processed manually.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment recognises the impact delays in the processing times for work permits has for businesses and their workers and significant resources have been allocated to processing times. The Department is very conscious of the current timeframes for processing General Employment Permit applications and the staff of the Employment Permits Unit are committed to reducing these.
An internal plan of action has been implemented which has increased resources and implemented more efficient methods of processing applications in the permits system. The processing team has trebled in size and daily output has more than tripled compared to 2021 levels.
Since the implementation of this plan, the Employment Permits Unit has reduced the number of applications awaiting processing from c. 11,000 in January 2022 to c. 6,900 to date. As new staff were trained on Critical Skills Employment Permits, waiting times for those permits has fallen from 21 weeks for a Standard applicant to 6 weeks today.
The Employment Permits Unit is currently processing Horticultural and Meat Sector General Employment Permits applications which were submitted in early December 2021, in addition to all other permits submitted then. Given the large volume of applications from the Agriculture sector (c.1,000 horticulture applications and c.2,000 meat applications) we anticipate that it will take a further 1-2 weeks to fully process all these applications, in addition to normal processing workload. The Department expects to see a consistent strong fall in waiting times for General Employment Permits from mid-May, with processing times considerably reduced by end Q2.
As a result of incomplete or incorrect information being submitted at the time of application, the Employment Permits Unit may contact the applicant seeking additional information in support of the application in order to have all of the available information prior to making a decision. In cases where an application has been rejected, a full detailed account of the reasons are detailed in the letter of refusal, as well as information in relation to seeking a formal review of any such decision. A request for a review of the refusal decision must be submitted within 28 days from date of issue of the refusal notification.
Information is provided on the Department’s website in relation to employment permits including information in relation to each permit type, latest updates and an FAQ document which answers the majority of the most common questions, all of which are available through this link - enterprise.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Workplace-and-Skills/Employment-Permits/
Online employment permit applications may be submitted at epos.djei.ie. A user guide to assist with online applications is available at the following link epos.djei.ie/EPOSOnlinePortal/UserGuide.pdf