Fast-track work permits will benefit refugees

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Minister of State Damien English

WORK permits for people living outside the European Economic Area (EEA), including medical staff, are now being fast-tracked, members of Shannon Chamber have been told.

And a speedier system could well benefit the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled to these shores, bringing with them skills such as computer programming, with coding being taught in schools in Ukraine.

Members of the Chamber’s HR Forum met last week with the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English, to discuss labour market matters, including delays being experienced in the processing of employment permits for non-EEA nationals.

The Minister reassure the Chamber that the recent delays are being reduced.

Applicants for a standard work permit wait 18 weeks or more, and Minister English said that extra staff assigned to processing permits have made substantial inroads into dealing with a backlog and will now turn their attention to getting the wait period down.

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The meeting, arranged through Clare TD Joe Carey and held virtually, enabled Shannon Chamber chief executive Helen Downes and members of the HR Forum to discuss these issues with the Minister.

Acknowledging that the delays to employment permit processing times are not acceptable, Minister English said: “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 per cent increase over the same period in 2020 (16,293) and a 47 per cent increase on 2019. There was a shortage of staff to deal with this influx.”

The Minister said that a plan of action is being implemented including increasing resources and implementing more efficient methods of processing applications, and 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.”

Minister English added that Critical Skills Employment Permits are now being issued within a six-week timeline. The focus now is on reducing the timeline for issuing standard permits, which currently stands at 18 weeks.

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