I am very well aware of the skills shortages currently being experienced in some sectors of the economy. The issue is all the more pressing given the strong economic growth being experienced and high demand being placed on a number of sectors to respond to a range of needs across the economy. Officials of my Department and I have also met with sector representatives to discuss the labour and skills challenges in sectors such as construction and hospitality.
The Critical Skills Employment Permit is designed to attract highly skilled people into the labour market with the aim of encouraging them to take up permanent residence in the State. Eligible occupations under this type of permit are deemed to be critically important to growing Ireland’s economy, are highly demanded and highly skilled, and in significant shortage of supply in our labour market. Occupations such as ICT professionals, professional engineers and technologists are catered for under this type of employment permit. Eligible occupations are largely determined in line with the research undertaken by the Skills and Labour Market research Unit (Solas), the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, input from relevant Government Departments, Offices and Agencies and through public consultation with regard to the labour market requirements in respect of strategically important skills.
The employment permits system is managed through the operation of the Critical Skills Occupations List and the Ineligible Occupations List. These lists are reviewed twice yearly to keep pace with rapid labour market changes and to be proactively identifying and addressing shortages as they arise.
A review of the occupation lists is being currently being finalised and my officials, in consultation with officials from a number of lead policy Government Departments, is actively considering the submissions received. I expect, in the very short term, to receive proposals, based on the evidence presented and extensive consultation with the Interdepartmental Group on Economic Migration, for changes to both the ineligible and critical skilled occupation lists.
At the end of December some 16,800 applications were received which were approx. 30% higher than 2017. Over the same period some 13,400 permits were granted representing an almost 20% increase over last year. Quarter 4 in 2018 saw the highest number of permits issued in any quarter in the previous 10 years.
As at 1st March 2019 there are currently approximately 1,980 permit applications in the processing queue down from a peak of 3,230 in September 2018. Through a combination of increased resources, staff working overtime and ICT and operational improvements, processing times are now at 3 weeks for Trusted Partners, and 13 weeks for standard applications. Further improvements are expected in the coming weeks.
As well as the short-term measures introduced to date, the development of a new IT system is being explored which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation. In parallel with this new development, my Department is determined to continue to reduce processing times and is engaging extensively with stakeholders to ensure that they are fully aware of the situation.