My Department experienced a significant increase in applications for employment permits in the past year, impacting on processing times. From the start of January 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. 16,275 employment permits were issued in 2021 out of a total of 17,968 applications processed, which represents a significant volume of activity.
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.
From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic all employment permit applications for medical personnel have been expedited in order to assist the State to respond to the threat of Covid-19.
My Department recognises the impact delays in the processing times for employment permits has for businesses and their workers. An internal plan of action has been implemented which has increased resources and implemented more efficient methods of processing applications in the permits system. Hundreds of doctors have already been removed from the employment 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 made positive progress by reducing the number of applications awaiting processing from about 11,000 in January 2022 to about 6,000 today, despite further strong growth in demand in 2022. As new staff were trained on Critical Skills and Intra Corporate Transfer Employment Permits, processing times for those permits have fallen from 21 weeks to 6 weeks.
My Department plans to maintain processing times for all CSEP and ICT applications at approximately its current level for all of Q2, on the assumption that demand remains at current levels.
The Employment Permits Unit is now coming to the end of processing the bulk of the 3,000 additional General Employment Permits applications made available to the meat and horticultural sectors, following the last review of the Occupational Lists, in addition to normal processing workload. Last week processing times for General Employment Permit applications for Trusted Partners fell from 22 weeks to 16 weeks. Processing times for General Employment Permit applications from Standard applicants remains at 22 weeks but should begin to fall from now on, with processing times considerably reduced by the end of Quarter 2.