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Minister Damien English announces changes to the employment permit system

From Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment 

Published on 14 June 2021

Last updated on 14 June 2021

Damien English TD, Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, has today announced changes to the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), following a comprehensive review.

Minister English said:

"These changes, which will come into effect from today, will address immediate skills and labour shortages in the healthcare and nursing home sectors."

Ireland operates a managed employment permit system through occupation lists, namely the critical skills and ineligible occupation lists, which are reviewed twice a year. This is an evidence-based process that takes account of labour market conditions and submissions from sectors and other stakeholders together with contextual factors, including in the current context, COVID-19. The purpose of the system is to maximise the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting the Irish labour market.

Evidence within the healthcare sector suggest increasing competition for skilled candidates in several healthcare roles and that despite increased efforts to recruit from the Irish and European labour markets, including through engagement with the Department of Social Protection, supply has not sufficiently met demand.

Presenting the changes, Minister English outlined:

"One of the principal beneficiaries of today’s announcement will be the Nursing Home Sector following the removal of Health Care Assistants from the ineligible occupation list. With increases in the aging population and consequent increases in demand for services, significant extra Health Care Assistants will be required to provide sufficient long-term residential care for older people into the future. The impact of COVID-19 also means that the demand for Health Care Assistants is likely to continue to be significant."

The Health Service Capacity Review 2018 forecast a 59% increase in the population aged over 65 and a 95% increase in the population aged over 85 by 2031. Between 2016 to 2031, the number of long-term care beds required is estimated to increase by over 10,000 and this additional demand will give rise to the demand for increased staffing levels.

Given the mix of public, private and voluntary providers in the sector, it is important that there is a common, validated framework of minimum standards, career pathways and qualifications for staff and taking account of the COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel recommendation, Minister English added:

"I have decided, in line with best practice, under the employment permit framework for Health Care Assistants, that there will be a requirement that they should have attained a relevant QQI Level 5 qualification after two years employment and I am delighted to be able to say that this training is available to employers and employees in the sector at no or low cost."

Remuneration for employment permit purposes is a labour market policy instrument in which setting minimum remuneration thresholds is a delicate balancing act. Economic migration seeks to serve the skills needs of the economy without impacting the wider labour market. Therefore, cognisant that there are a range of remuneration levels in the sector (€24,000 - €32,000) and recognising the need to be able to recruit staff while ensuring that there is no disruption to the domestic labour market, a minimum annual remuneration threshold of €27,000 has been set for this occupation.

Minister English indicated that this framework will be reviewed after twelve months to ensure that changes announced today meet the needs of the sector.

The review also reports that there are significant shortages over a range of health care roles across the EU. In addition, the Health Services Executive plans to substantially increase capacity with up to 16,000 additional personnel across the system.

The Minister said:

"Adding the role of dietician to the critical skilled list and the inclusion of Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, and Speech and Language Therapists among the occupations now eligible for an employment permit will help the sector address recruitment difficulties, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 as well as the significant planned expansion in HSE recruitment."

Minister English concluded:

"Our economic migration policy accommodates the arrival of non-EEA nationals to fill skills and labour gaps in the domestic economy in the short to medium term. My department reviews the system bi-annually, working with other government departments to promote an integrated approach to address labour and skills shortages in the longer term. Where shortages are clearly evidenced, the employment permit system is flexible enough to address these shortages in real time."

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June 25, 2021
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