Enterprise; Trade and Employment | Employment Permit Demand
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Employment the extent to which work permits continue to be processed in line with the demand with particular reference to such areas as health and other posts; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The employment permits system is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill skills and/or labour shortages, in circumstances where there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one. The system is managed through the use of lists designating highly skilled and ineligible occupations.
Changes I announced in June last year were aimed at addressing the shortages being experienced in private and voluntary nursing home establishments and hospital settings by providing access to the employment permits system. These employers can apply for the General Employment Permit for non-EEA nationals wishing to take up employment in the State as a Nursing Auxiliary or Assistant (Health Care Assistant). From the start of January to date the Department has issued 1,873 employment permits to Health Care Assistants (HCA), of this figure 1,781 were issued to HCAs in a Nursing Home setting. These roles were distributed across 193 Nursing Homes throughout the State.
In addition, to help alleviate some of the ongoing skills shortages I announced further changes in June this year to enhance access to employment permits for other key professional roles in the health sector such as Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Podiatrist and Chiropodist. Employment in these occupations is now eligible for the Critical Skills Employment Permit which is the employment permit type used to attract highly skilled professionals into the State to reside and take up employment in key occupations.
It is important to point out that 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.
The Department experienced a significant increase in applications for employment permits in the past year and a half, which impacted 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, and a total of 17,968 applications processed, which represents a significant volume of activity. This increased demand was also driven by the extension of categories of employment permits following the Review of the Occupational Lists in October 2021.
In total over 6,800 employment permits have been issued for roles in the healthcare sector since the start of the year.
The Department and I recognised the impact delays in the processing times for employment permits has had for businesses and their workers. Therefore, an internal plan of action was implemented which has increased resources and introduced more efficient methods of processing applications in the 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 c. 11,000 in January 2022 to under 2,500 today, despite further strong growth in demand during 2022.
Processing times for all Critical Skills applications are at 3 weeks. General Employment Permit applications for Trusted Partners are currently taking 3 weeks while standard applications stand at 4 weeks.
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