Shannon Chamber HR Forum host meeting with Minister English on labour market matters

Assurances on employment permit processing times given

A request by members of Shannon Chamber’s HR Forum to meet with the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD, to discuss labour market matters including delays being experienced in the processing of employment permits for non-EEA nationals has led to a reassurance that the recent delays are being reduced.

The meeting arranged through Deputy Joe Carey, which was held virtually, enabled Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes and members of the HR Forum to discuss these issues in person with Minister English and officials from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Acknowledging that the delays to employment permit processing times are not acceptable, Minister English informed Shannon HR Forum members that: “We 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 – and that there was a shortage of staff to deal with this influx.”

Minister English also stated: “I recognise the impact delays on the processing times for employment permits has for businesses and their prospective workers. I and the Employment Permits team in the Department are committed to reducing these times. A plan of action is being implemented including increasing resources and implementing more efficient methods of processing applications, including removing hundreds of doctors from 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 section has made positive progress to reduce the current backlog reducing the number of applications awaiting processing from 11,181 in January 2022 to 8,773 at the end of March 2022.

Minister English assured attendees that Critical Skills Employment Permits are now being issued within a six-week timeline and the backlog of 10,500 permits at the end of 2021 is reduced to just over 8,000 currently, with this backlog set to be cleared within the next two months. The focus now is on reducing the timeline for issuing standard permits, which currently stands at eighteen weeks”.

Stating that permits are not meant to be a long-term fix for staff shortages but rather a short-term solution to meet the needs of some sectors, Minister English encouraged companies to engage with education providers and the Department of Social Protection to identify other ways of closing the skills’ gap and be involved in finding long-term solutions for filling critical skills’ vacancies.

Responding to questions on whether the list of occupations eligible for an employment permit might be increased and if permits for HGV drivers could be issued more speedily, Minister English said: “The system is reviewed bi-annually and requests for changes are taken on board at that stage. Decisions for adding new roles must be evidence-based and I advise sectors seeking changes to the permit lists to submit a well-substantiated case, which would be given consideration.  I expect to open the next review in the coming weeks.”

While work permits are needed for non-EEA HGV drivers, and the quota for such permits has been removed, Minister English stated that delays are also caused by difficulties in assessing the validity of licences or the qualifications of drivers.

Commenting on the importance of such a meeting, Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes said the engagement was invaluable.

Ms. Downes said “Our role as a Chamber is to assist member companies alleviate any issues they may face, in this instance, with their recruitment processes. We were delighted to facilitate this engagement with Minister English and his team and are reassured that everything is being done to reduce the timeline in issuing work permits.

“As advised by Minister English, the entire system is being reviewed. Permanent changes have gone through Cabinet and are set for enactment before year end. Such changes will include a modernisation of the overall permit issuing system, the introduction of seasonal permits for some sectors, the definition of remuneration, a special sector service to make it easier to deal with sectors that are not on the list, timelines around advertising jobs, provision for third-party contracts and the streamlining of the application process. We look forward to seeing the full list of changes in due course and will maintain contact with Minister English and the Department over the coming months in this regard.”

Ms. Downes concluded by saying “Interventions of this nature enable Shannon Chamber to fully understand how Government is dealing with issues of importance to companies. We look forward to maintaining this linkage with Minister English and we are inviting him to present in person at a HR Forum meeting in Shannon soon.”