I am aware of the comments in question. However, the speaker appears not to have been aware of existing policy and practice in this area. At present, the work permit facility grants the permit to an employer to recruit a specific employee to fill a specific vacancy, where the employer has been unable to find a suitable employee within Ireland or the wider European economic area. This arrangement does have the safeguard that the non-EEA employee in question is coming to fill a specific vacancy, an important factor when most of the personnel in question are at the lower end of the skills spectrum.
Despite assertions to the contrary, in recent years, work permit personnel have being readily facilitated in changing employers and in such circumstances a new work permit is issued to a new, eligible, employer. This flexibility has been possible and warranted by the relatively high number of vacancies arising in recent years.
In 2002 some 3,888 work permit employees changed employer, while in 2003 this number was 3,512, or an average of 68 per week. This reality does not support accusations that the work permit facility resembles "bonded servitude".
If we were to move to a situation where a work permit was given to the individual employee, we would, in effect, be giving an authorisation to such individuals to come to Ireland in search of an employer. Such a system is not impossible but it gives rise to a number of serious policy questions and raises a significant resource issue. Any informed decision to move to a new system should take these into account.
My Department is confident that after 1 May 2004 we should be able to meet the great bulk of our overseas labour needs from within the enlarged EU and such persons will not require work permits.