I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 122 together.
The employment permit system is managed through the operation of the critical skills and ineligible occupations lists. In May 2018, following a comprehensive review of the data/evidence available and consideration, by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as the lead policy Department for the sector, of a detailed business case a pilot quota based scheme was introduced for the occupations of horticulture worker, meat processing operative, and of dairy farm assistant which were removed from the employment permit ineligible occupation list. The quotas introduced were 500, 1500 and 50 respectively. The scheme allows workers from non-EEA countries to access employment opportunities. To date this pilot scheme has proved very successful with the number of permits issued being 101 out of 500 horticulture worker permits. 1377 out of 1,500 meat processing operatives and 49 out of 50 for dairy farm assistants.
These lists are subject to twice-yearly evidenced based review process involving consideration of research undertaken by the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (Solas), the Expert Group of Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), the National Skills Council, and input by relevant Government Departments in addition to the public consultation phase. Submissions to the review process are also considered by the Economic Migration Policy Interdepartmental Group chaired by my Department which includes the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The pilot scheme provides that additional employment permit quotas may be granted in response to progress reported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on commitments given by the sector to:
- the systematic and structured engagement with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection regarding sourcing labour from the live register and across the EEA;
- the development of training, upskilling and career opportunities;
- a commitment to examine the potential of innovation in the sector to ameliorate reliance on a model of low skill, low wage employment.
I am advised that the sector is currently preparing a further business case for consideration initially by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for submission to my Department. The next review to consider changes to the lists of occupations is scheduled to commence before the of May.