Plan to make Ireland the internet capital of Europe moves forward

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD has published the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014.

The law, when enacted, will reform and modernise Ireland’s employment permits system as part of a plan to make Ireland the top global location for ICT skills and confirm our status as the internet capital of Europe.

The new legislation follows other reforms in this area including:

  • A reduction of 58% in the processing time for employment permits
  • Substantial increases in the number of skilled graduates available in Ireland, through both the education system and the employment permits system. International research has shown that for every high-end tech job created, a further 4-5 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy.
  • Improvements in the appeals process and a reduction in the number of appeals
  • Broadening the highly-skilled eligible occupations list
  • Improved customer service and communications

These reforms are delivered as part of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and in particular the joint ICT Skills Action Plan developed by Minister Bruton and Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn, which is aimed at increasing the number of skilled ICT graduates available in Ireland through the education system as well as the employment permits system.

The new law published today will, subject to Oireachtas approval, be enacted by the summer,. The provisions of the law include:

  • updating provisions for the employment permits schemes in line with policy and economic developments since 2007;
  • providing the flexibility to deal with changing labour market, work patterns and economic development needs which often require rapid response;
  • providing for a robust employment permits regime which will provide clarity and certainty to potential investors and employers, both indigenous and multi-national, to better enable their business planning and HR decision-making; and
  • addressing recent deficiencies in the legislation identified by the High Court in the Younis case in 2012, which have the potential to allow employers to benefit from illegal employment contracts in situations where an employee does not hold an employment permit but is required to do so.

Publishing the legislation, Minister Bruton said:

“The ICT sector is a central part of our Action Plan for Jobs, and since taking office we have put in place a range of measures to support accelerated job-creation in this area. Skills is key to this, as one of the biggest issues faced by businesses considering creating jobs in this sector is the availability of skilled graduates to do the work needed. Working closely with Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn we have delivered substantial improvements in the past three years, and this has made a major contribution to the overall increase in the numbers of people at work in this area. Under the most recent ICT Action Plan at least 3 out of 4 vacancies in the ICT sector will be filled by graduates from Irish colleges – this is a major leap forward from the 45% that prevailed in 2011.

“The legislation we are publishing today will make a major contribution to the overall reforms we are delivering in the employment permits area. It codifies and clarifies the law in this area to make the system more transparent and obligations clearer to businesses and other stakeholders. It also makes the system more flexible and responsive to changing economic circumstances, so that our employment permits system can respond quickly and allow our economy benefit from quickly-emerging opportunities.

“The law also addresses deficiencies in the law identified by the High Court in the Muhammad Younis case, and makes sure that employers cannot benefit, at the cost of the employee and his/her employment rights, from situations where employment contracts cannot be enforced because an overseas employee does not hold an employment permit. When this case first emerged I was appalled at its facts and pledged to move to remedy the law in this area – this legislation will deliver on this pledge”.

The bill can be found at: http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=25937&&CatID=59

NOTES FOR EDITORS

A key objective of Irish labour market policy is to ensure that labour and skills needs are met from within the Irish and European Economic Area (EEA – EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) labour markets. Employment permits can be issued however for the employment of non-EEA nationals where there are identified skills shortages and employers can demonstrate demand for labour cannot be met within Ireland or the EEA. These strategic skills/labour shortages are in designated occupations in key economic sectors such as healthcare, information technology and financial services. The identification of occupations and areas of skills shortages draws principally on data collated by the Expert Group on Future Skills (EGFSN).

There are two Employment Permit Acts on the statute books – the Employment Permit Acts 2003 and 2006. Under the Employment Permits Acts, an employment permit must be obtained in advance from the Department in respect of a non-EEA national who is to be employed in the State (except Swiss nationals in accordance with the terms of the EC and Swiss Confederation Act 2001). The Employment Permits Act 2006 sets out in legislation the criteria in relation to the application, grant and refusal of an employment permit

New categories of Employment Permit

The new Bill will provide nine different purposes for which an employment permit may be granted. These are

  • A Critical Skills Employment Permit to replace the ‘Green card’ which currently exists. This type of permit has been designed to address critical shortages of skills, which will be identified in Regulations. In order to attract individuals who possess such skills, this permit type allows immediate family reunification and a fast track to residency. In addition, a number of the criteria normally applying to issue of an employment permit will be waived for this category;
  • A Spouses, Civil Partners and Dependents Employment Permit, to enable the family members of holders of Critical Skills Employment Permits and Researchers, to work in the State;
  • A General Employment Permit, which will issue in cases where a contract for a designated highly skilled occupation has been offered for a duration of less than two years, or for other occupations, apart from those included on a list of ineligible jobs, where a number of other criteria have been met;
  • An Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit, to allow for the temporary transfer of employees between affiliated foreign and Irish companies;
  • A Reactivation Employment Permit, to allow for the return of individuals to employment who had fallen out of the employment permits system through no fault of their own;
  • A Contract for Services Employment Permit, to allow the employee of a foreign company that has entered a contract with an Irish company to work in the State;
  • An Exchange Agreement Employment Permit, to allow individuals to whom a designated exchange agreement applies to work in the State;
  • A Sports and Cultural Employment Permit, to allow individuals with sporting or cultural expertise to work in the State;
  • An Internship Employment Permit, to allow students of foreign institutions to work in the State, where that is a key component of the course which they are following.

Changes to the criteria for issue of an employment permit

The Bill adjusts in a number of ways the criteria for issue of an employment permit, with a view to balancing the skills needs of enterprise with the stability of the labour market. Chief among these are:

  • Retaining and extending the requirement for a labour market needs test, with certain grounds for waiver including an exemption for applications for Critical Skills Employment Permits;
  • Retaining and extending the requirement where at least 50% of an enterprise’s employees must be Irish or EEA nationals where an employment permit is to be issued, while making provisions for this requirement to be waived for enterprise start-ups for a designated period.