As the economy improves and we approach full employment, my Department continues to experience a high volume of employment permit applications which has led to some delays in processing applications. The current level of demand is due to our economic success, growing labour market and reduced labour surplus.
Employment Permits Section is working to further reduce the current waiting times of approximately:
3-4 weeks for Trusted Partners, which account for 76% of permits issued this year (down from a peak of 7 weeks). Trusted Partners are regular users of the service.
10 weeks for standard applications, which account for 24% of permits issued this year (down from a peak of 16 weeks).
In order to further reduce processing times, the Employment Permits section has introduced a number of operational changes, streamlined processes and implemented ICT solutions. Additional staffing resources have also been assigned to the section and a fast track training programme has been devised.
These processing timelines are good by international standards but they are not where we want them to be. I can assure the Deputy that all available resources are being deployed with the aim of reducing them. Whilst there is still room for improvement in relation to reducing processing times for standard applications, it should be noted that, overall, 76% of all employment permit applications are currently being processed in approximately 3-4 weeks.
The number of applications being received by my Department is currently at an 11-year high. At end November 2019, 17,216 applications have been received, an 11% increase on the same time last year. At the same time there has been a 24% increase in the amount of applications processed (17,535) compared to the same period last year. In July 2019, Employment Permits Section processed more employment permit applications (1,828) than during any month in the past 11 years. Quarter 3 of 2019 was the busiest Quarter in the last 11 years with 5,072 permit applications being processed so the changes currently being implemented within Employment Permits are resulting in higher outputs and reduced processing times.
An independent Business Process Review (BPR) has been carried out to identify further efficiencies that can be implemented in the short term and as a first step in the development of a new IT processing system during 2020 which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation. The Review, which included engagement from key stakeholders, has just been completed with the final report expected in the coming days. It is anticipated that the implementation of the recommendations of the Review, including the implementation of a new IT processing system, will result in further streamlined processes and reduced processing times.
My officials have been proactively engaging with customers to notify them of current processing timelines through email, meetings and regular updates on the Employment Permits section of my Department’s website.
Applicants are advised to apply for the employment permit at least 12 weeks in advance of the expected start date so that any impact of the current extended processing timelines on recruitment timeframes is minimised.
All permit applications are processed in chronological order and not by sector.
Details requested by the Deputy in respect of the number of outstanding employment permits that remain to be processed at the end of each month in 2019 are set out in the following table.