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The benefits of encouraging an international workforce to come to Ireland

Migrants working in Ireland help increase economic growth, ease labour market shortages, improve output and contribute to reducing earnings inequality

 ‘As we recognise the positive impact of immigration inbound to Ireland, we can now look to how we continue to support foreign nationals coming to and living in Ireland’

In today’s economic climate, Ireland needs to get the right talent into the right roles and this means we need to look to immigrants to bring the skills Ireland needs, Róisín Fitzpatrick, partner, Immigration Services, Global Employer Services, Deloitte Ireland LLP, said.

“Unemployment was back to pre Covid rates of 4.8 per cent in April and many corporate employers are looking to the Irish government to see how it can support their drive to find the skills and expertise to help them continue to grow their businesses,” she said.

Government authorities have already made some positive moves, Fitzpatrick said. “We have seen the Irish authorities react and adapt successfully to support the skills shortages in Ireland by reviewing the eligibility of occupations for employment permits.”

On the back of recent reviews, the skills shortage for healthcare assistants in Ireland became clear. Fitzpatrick said that this resulted in the Department of Enterprise and Employment (which issues employment permits for foreign nationals) updating the employment permits systems on June 15, 2021 to add healthcare assistant roles to the eligible list for an employment permit.

“As a result, a number of nursing homes have been able to fill their open roles. Likewise, we’ve seen the increased drive for construction workers as the construction industry works to meet the demand for housing and office space. Additional roles were added to the highly skilled list and removed from the ineligible list which allowed for permit applications for the first time from brick layers to site managers.”

In addition to the updates to the employment permits system, Ireland goes beyond the traditional means of corporate immigration (where an employer sponsors a foreign national employee with an employment permit).

Fitzpatrick said that changes in March 2019 mean that employers can now hire spouses and partners of highly skilled (CSEP) permit holders. “This enables and allows dependent partners access to the labour market. This is often a critical factor in a family making the decision on whether to relocate to a new country. The hope is that this could be extended to spouses and partners of other permit types in the future – Intra Company Transfer and General Employment permit.”

There has also been a shift to start recruiting from the talented pool of people who enter the asylum seeker process in Ireland.
“As of July 2018, employers can employ refugees and asylum seekers once they apply for work permission (which they can do after six months in Ireland). Ibec and Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission have issued the ‘Employing International Protection Applicants’ Toolkit which is a helpful guide for employers who are considering this option.”

Deloitte fed into this toolkit, following the successful pilot of its internship programme which helps transition talented people seeking asylum in Ireland into its workforce.

“In addition, we also saw the Department of Justice introduce the temporary protection directive which offers access to the labour market for Ukrainian nationals in Ireland. This allows Ukrainian nationals who are seeking protection to enter the workforce immediately.”

The recent undocumented migrants scheme, launched by the Department of Justice, will also support many undocumented foreign nationals to access the labour market in a legitimate way – allowing companies to recruit and employ from this population group. About 5,000 applications have been submitted under the programme, with around 250 positive decisions made to date.

“These alternative pathways have all been excellent tools which enable foreign nationals to seek work and the businesses seeking to hire to fill their talent gaps,” she said.

Impact on Irish society

The impact of this inbound immigration to Ireland on the Irish economy and society is significant. A report, ‘Managing Migration in Ireland: A Social and Economic Analysis’, prepared by International Organisation for Migration on behalf of Ireland’s National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in 2015 found that migrants helped increase economic growth, eased labour market shortages, improved output and contributed to reducing earnings inequality.

During and post the pandemic, we have seen this continue, Fitzpatrick said. “The foreign nationals who have taken up the healthcare assistant roles in nursing homes and care facilities since July 2021 have allowed us to support and care for those most vulnerable in Irish society.

“The DETE confirmed most recent statistics on their efforts as healthcare assistant applications are up from 121 in 2020 to 1,345 in 2022. We have managed our construction and infrastructure projects with the help of foreign nationals who have taken up roles in the construction sector – up from 178 for Jan-April 2020 to 453 for the same months in 2022."

The contribution of foreign national doctors was recognised in March of this year by allowing doctors who have worked here for more than two years to immediately access the favourable and flexible “stamp 4” immigration permission. The Taoiseach pointed to the impact they had made to Irish society saying: “The value of the contribution made by non-EEA nation doctors was particularly evident during the pandemic.”

“The impact also goes beyond the employment roles that migrants play in our society,” Fitzpatrick said. “People bring their own cultures and language to help create a diverse and cultural Ireland. They engage with our local communities and our schools. With that cultural diversity and knowledge of different cultural norms/business practices, they boost Ireland’s tourism and trade with other countries.

“In addition, there is of course their fiscal contribution. In 2021, some 16,275 new employment permits were granted to foreign nationals and this doesn’t take into account the number of migrants who entered Ireland in previous years and remained in Ireland, renewing their immigration permission. The fiscal contribution on personal and employer taxes alone is significant.

“So, as we recognise the positive impact of immigration inbound to Ireland, we can now look to how we continue to support foreign nationals coming to and living in Ireland.”

Steps to support corporate immigration

With our economic growth, Ireland needs to maintain a well-managed immigration system and such an immigration system needs to be able to adapt to the needs of its migrant population in order to thrive as a diverse and economically successful country, Fitzpatrick said.

“The changes to the permits system mentioned above have allowed employers to hire non-EEA talent for the roles required. We have seen the business-focused approach of the department in adapting to the needs of the Irish labour market. These changes occurred, however, at the same time as the world has opened up.”

“Recruitment into Ireland has increased and caused significant pressure on the employment permits system. A system that processed 5,790 permits this time last year, has more than trebled that to process 18,269 permits so far this year. With this demand placed on the permits system, the department increased their resourcing and head count significantly. This had the required effect in reducing processing times over the last few months – from 16 weeks to six weeks for highly skilled roles under the Trusted Partner scheme. Short and consistent processing across all permit types required to ensure that businesses continue to utilise the permit system.”

The Irish government has demonstrated that it can move quickly. “The swift action of the visa office to remove Ukrainian nationals from the visa-required list at the start of the Ukraine war allowed to Ukrainians to enter Ireland with ease. Likewise, the move to support this population with the ability to quickly apply for PPSN was a very positive step. However, there are still areas where we can continue to support our foreign national population in Ireland and improve our immigration system.”

One stop shop

Creating a one stop shop for immigration would be a significant step to support the immigration system in Ireland, Fitzpatrick said. “Currently, a foreign national must apply for an employment permit, then if a visa is required, apply for an entry visa and after that they must apply for an Irish Residence Permit (IRP) appointment in order to obtain their IRP card.

“In addition, the foreign national will also need to apply for a PPSN once in Ireland. This results in a significant number of applications, all requiring similar information, needing to be submitted by the foreign national and then processed by several different government authorities. Streamlining these various applications could result in a streamlined immigration system and open up additional capacity.”

Giving additional capacity to our Irish immigration system is urgently required. “With a higher number of applications across the board – whether it be employment permit applications, EU Treaty Rights, pre-clearance applications for dependants of UK nationals or naturalisation applications – the systems are struggling to process within the timeframes previously expected.

“As immigration is increasingly required to support the growth of our Irish and multinational corporations, additional capacity is required to process applications. If the end-to-end timeframe takes too long, foreign nationals will not be willing to put their lives on hold and employers will not be willing to wait to employ them in Ireland.”

Goal 4 of the Department of Justice’s Statement of Strategy for 2021-23 aims to “deliver a fair immigration system for a digital age”.

Fitzpatrick said that we have seen progress with the introduction of the online Irish Residence Permit renewals in Dublin which allows for IRPs to be renewed online without the need for original documentation.

Likewise, since the introduction of the department’s phone service in January, it has provided 17,405 appointments for customers, with a further 10,459 appointments booked to early July 2022.

“We have seen steps by the department to respond to feedback – recently, right to work continuity was confirmed in writing by the Helen McEntee, the Minister for Justice, once a renewal application was submitted. In addition, the removal of the four-week timeframe was long requested and considered a positive response in terms of listening to feedback on this issue.”

However, increased capacity is required for those officials managing the renewal application process in order for the move to be felt.

“Due to an influx of IRP renewal applications, processing times are currently up to 12 weeks. This can result in the foreign national being unable to leave Ireland and travel until their new card is processed. At a time when the world feels as if it is opening up again, we should be able to support our foreign national population to travel for business and also travel home and see their families again.”

Attracting and retaining top talent

Ensuring that employers can access talent outside the EEA is critical to Ireland’s continued growth. “To attract and retain the best minds and talent to Ireland, we need a highly functioning immigration system. Where businesses cannot access talent, they will move roles elsewhere and outside of Ireland.”

“We have much to offer in Ireland in terms of our culture, our education system and our current economy. Our society has benefited from the positive effects of immigration we’ve seen to date. However, if migrants don’t feel their contribution is recognised we risk the ability to retain them in Ireland.”

Fitzpatrick said that the Irish immigration programme is the first impression for many foreign nationals who hope to make the country their home. “It must become a robust, fair and efficient programme that benefits employers, employees and Irish citizens.”

This article originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post on the 05 June 2022.

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