Minister Damien English announces changes to the employment permits system

14th June 2021

Changes will address skill and labour shortages in the healthcare and nursing home sectors, with immediate effect

Damien English T.D., Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, has today announced changes to the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), following a comprehensive review.

Minister English said: “These changes, which will come into effect from today, will address immediate skills and labour shortages in the healthcare and nursing home sectors.”

Ireland operates a managed employment permit system through occupation lists, namely the critical skills and ineligible occupation lists, which are reviewed twice a year. This is an evidence-based process that takes account of labour market conditions and submissions from sectors and other stakeholders together with contextual factors, including in the current context, COVID-19. The purpose of the system is to maximise the benefits of economic migration while minimising the risk of disrupting the Irish labour market.

Evidence within the healthcare sector suggest increasing competition for skilled candidates in several healthcare roles and that despite increased efforts to recruit from the Irish and European labour markets, including through engagement with the Department of Social Protection, supply has not sufficiently met demand.

Presenting the changes, Minister English outlined: “One of the principal beneficiaries of today’s announcement will be the Nursing Home Sector following the removal of Health Care Assistants from the ineligible occupation list. With increases in the aging population and consequent increases in demand for services, significant extra Health Care Assistants will be required to provide sufficient long-term residential care for older people into the future. The impact of COVID-19 also means that the demand for Health Care Assistants is likely to continue to be significant.”

The Health Service Capacity Review 2018 forecast a 59% increase in the population aged over 65 and a 95% increase in the population aged over 85 by 2031. Between 2016 to 2031, the number of long-term care beds required is estimated to increase by over 10,000 and this additional demand will give rise to demand for increased staffing levels.  

Given the mix of public, private and voluntary providers in the sector, it is important that there is a common, validated framework of minimum standards, career pathways and qualifications for staff and taking account of the COVID-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel recommendation, Minister English added, “I have decided, in line with best practice, under the employment permit framework for Health Care Assistants, that there will be a requirement that they should have attained a relevant QQI Level 5 qualification after two years employment and  I am delighted to be able to say that this training is available to employers and employees in the sector at no or low cost.”

Remuneration for employment permit purposes is a labour market policy instrument in which setting minimum remuneration thresholds is a delicate balancing act. Economic migration seeks to serve the skills needs of the economy without impacting the wider labour market. Therefore, cognisant that there are a range of remuneration levels in the sector (€24,000 - €32,000) and recognising the need to be able to recruit staff while ensuring that there is no disruption to the domestic labour market, a minimum annual remuneration threshold of €27,000 has been set for this occupation. 

Minister English indicated that this framework will be reviewed after twelve months to ensure that changes announced today meet the needs of the sector. 

The review also reports that there are significant shortages over a range of health care roles across the EU. In addition, the Health Services Executive plans to substantially increase capacity with up to   16,000 additional personnel across the system. The Minister said “Adding the role of dietician to the critical skilled list and the inclusion of Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, and Speech and Language Therapists among the occupations now eligible for an employment permit will help the sector address recruitment difficulties, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 as well as the significant planned expansion in HSE recruitment”

Minister English concluded: “Our economic migration policy accommodates the arrival of non-EEA nationals to fill skills and labour gaps in the domestic economy in the short to medium term. My Department reviews the system bi-annually, working with other Government Departments to promote an integrated approach to address labour and skills shortages in the longer term. Where shortages are clearly evidenced, the employment permit system is flexible enough to address these shortages in real time.”


Notes for Editor


The Employment Permits System

The Irish State’s general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within the workforce of Ireland, the European Union and other EEA states. Policy in relation to applications for employment permits remains focused on facilitating the recruitment from outside the EEA of highly skilled personnel, where the requisite skills cannot be met by normal recruitment or by training.  Employment permit policy is part of the response to addressing skills deficits which exist and are likely to continue into the medium term, but it is not intended over the longer term to act as a substitute for meeting the challenge of up-skilling the State’s resident workforce, with an emphasis on the process of lifelong learning, and on maximising the potential of EEA nationals to fill our skills deficits.

The Occupations Lists

The employment permits system is managed through the use of lists designating highly skilled and ineligible occupations. The lists are reviewed twice a year to ensure their ongoing relevance to the State’s human capital requirements. The review process utilises research undertaken by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) and other experts in the labour market, including the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) at SOLAS.  The Department also invites submissions from industry representatives, other Government Departments and any other stakeholders who might have a case to make, via a twice-yearly open consultation on the Department’s website. Since the Review of Economic Migration Policy which took place in 2018, the Minister has taken advice on economic migration from the Inter-Departmental Group which managed the review process.

The Employment Permits system is designed to attract highly skilled workers from outside the EEA to Ireland, to meet skills demand in the economy where those skills can’t be accessed through the resident labour force.  For the purposes of the employment permits system, occupations fall into three categories:

  • Occupations listed on the Critical Skills Occupations List are highly skilled professional roles that are in high demand and are not always available in the resident labour force.  Occupations on this list are eligible for a Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) and include roles such as medicine, ICT, sciences, finance and business.  Special “fast-track” conditions attach to this permit type including the eligibility to apply to the Department of Justice and Equality for family members to accompany the permit holder immediately; and after two years may apply for permission to work without the requirement for an employment permit. 
  • Ineligible occupations are those with evidence that there are more than enough Irish/EEA workers to fill such vacancies. Employment permits are not granted for these occupations. Ineligible occupations are generally lower skilled occupations such as personal services and operatives.
  • Every other job in the labour market, where an employer cannot find a worker, are eligible for an employment permit.  For these occupations, the employer is required to undertake a Labour Market Needs Test (i.e. advertise the job four weeks from 1 January 2020) and if no-one suitable applies for the job, the employer is free to apply for an employment permit.  Occupations such as these may be skills of a more general nature and are eligible for a General Employment Permit (GEP).  This permit type is renewable and after five years the applicant may apply to the Department of Justice and Equality for long term residency permission. 

Remuneration Threshold for the Critical Skills and General Employment Permits

With effect from 1 January 2020, the minimum salary threshold for Critical Skills Employment Permits (CSEP) will be €32,000 per annum for occupations on the critical skills lists and a degree and €64,000 per annum for eligible occupations. For the General Employment Permits (for which occupations that have been removed from the Ineligible Occupations List can qualify) is generally €30,000, with €27,500, €27,000 and €22,000 as exceptions for certain categories of employment.

For further information:

The Critical Skills and Ineligible Occupations Lists Review

It is vital that the employment permits schemes are responsive to changes in economic circumstances and labour market conditions. Therefore it is necessary to review the Critical Skills and Ineligible Occupations Lists on a regular basis, in accordance with the changing needs of the labour market. 

The employment permits regime is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA migrants to fill skills shortages.  However, this objective must be balanced by the need to ensure that there are no suitably qualified Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work and that the shortage is a genuine one.

An occupation may be considered for inclusion on the critical skilled occupation list or removal from the ineligible lists provided that:

  • shortage exists across the occupation, despite attempts by industry to train and There are no suitable Irish/EEA nationals available to undertake the work.
  • development opportunities for Irish/EEA nationals are not undermined.
  • genuine skills shortage exists and that it is not a recruitment or retention problem.
  • the Government education, training, employment and economic development policies are supported.
  • the skill shortage exists across the occupation, despite attempts by industry to train and attract Irish/EEA nationals to available jobs.

Submission Process

In order to maintain the relevance of these lists of occupations to the needs of the economy, a bi-annual review process is applied.  As part of this review process, submissions are sought from representative bodies, Government Departments, Agencies, and other interested parties relating to occupations currently included on or absent from the lists.

The submission process is an opportunity for stakeholders to provide additional information and potentially different perspectives on the nature and extent of skill shortages.  Stakeholder submissions are a vital source of information, helping inform the Department’s final assessment of the status of occupations. 

 Changes announced today

Health Care Assistant is removed from the ineligible occupation list within the following framework.

  • Attainment of a relevant QQI Level 5 qualification after two years employment in the State
  • A minimum remuneration threshold of salary of at least €27,000 

It is proposed that this Framework will be reviewed after one year to identify any issues arising.

The occupation of Dietician to the Critical Skills Occupations List and is eligible for a critical skilled employment permit and the occupations of Social Worker, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and Speech and Language Therapist from the Ineligible Occupations List