It gives me great pleasure to launch today the new economic migration and employment permits arrangements, which comprise four types of employment permit.
These new arrangements will come into operation on 1 February. The Employment Permits Act passed by the Oireachtas last year, together with the Employment Permits Act 2003, provide the statutory basis for the new schemes. These arrangements put in place a flexible, responsive and managed economic migration policy. This policy is a key part of our Skills Strategy and represents another important building block in the continued transformation of our economy into one which is driven by innovation and based on knowledge.
The four new types of employment permit are:
the Green Card Scheme
the Work Permit
the Intra-Company Transfer Permit and
Spousal and Dependant Permits.
Economic development context
Obviously, our economic migration policy must be both responsive to different stages of economic development and to labour market conditions, and must also support the thrust of economic development policy into the future. The new employment permits arrangements I am launching today meet both of these aspirations.
Economic migration policy has adapted in recent years to changed circumstances. During the past ten years Ireland has been transformed from being primarily a country of emigration, or outward migration, to a country of immigration, or inward migration. Economic migration policy responded quickly to the improvement in our economic performance, the fall in unemployment and the resultant labour shortages. As a consequence, the number of work permits issued increased. In the year 2000 we also introduced the Work Visa/Work Authorisation system to deal with skills shortages among highly skilled occupations in the Information and Communications Technology, Construction and Health sectors in particular.
Then, when the EU-10 Member States joined the EU the Government decided to grant access to the labour market to nationals of these States from the date of Accession on 1st May 2004. About 90,000 of these nationals are currently working here in Ireland.
There is no doubt that we now have great diversity in our labour force, with 9 per cent of our workers having come from abroad. These workers have helped us to develop our economy by filling short term high skills gaps, such as in the information technology and health areas.
I have already mentioned the importance of economic migration policy in our overall economic development strategy.
In driving that strategy forward, the Government is implementing the Enterprise Strategy Group Report recommendations with a view to moving our economy to a position where it is both knowledge-based and innovation-driven.
Labour market policy measures are a key part of this in three ways.
UpskillingEEA Nationals Potential Economic Migration Policy
The third component of our labour market policy is the new employment permit arrangements I am launching today. These are to cater for those high level skills which are strategically crucial to the development of our economy, which we cannot source from within the EEA. The Green Card Scheme in particular will allow us to attract the highly skilled people we need to move our economy to a new level which will generate high-value jobs into the future.
The new arrangements have also taken into account the views of the Forfas Expert Group on Future Skills Needs as expressed in its Report and drawn on more recent work undertaken by it and FAS. It is worth mentioning that the Expert Group Report concluded that a migration policy which focusses on importing high skilled workers can have a positive impact on economic performance, on GDP per capita and productivity.
The employment permit arrangements I am announcing today have also taken into account the views of the social partners and the commitments in Towards 2016.
In formulating the new arrangements, my priority has been to ensure that they are responsive to the needs of our dynamic labour market and are supportive of continued economic growth and competitiveness.
It is important that the new regime is flexible so that it can respond quickly to both emerging skills shortages generally and to specific company skill requirements. The fact that our employment permits arrangements will be based on job offers in skill shortage areas, rather than on unwieldy quota or points systems, will mean that they will be both responsive and efficient in responding to strategic high skill shortages as they emerge.
Good governance and the dictates of economic efficiency require that the new arrangements are user friendly and continue to provide good customer service. Our aim is therefore to continue to meet our processing period target of 15 working days.
I will now briefly describe the four types of employment permits being launched today:
Green Card SchemeWork PermitsIntra-Company Transfer PermitsSpousal/Dependant permits
The fourth scheme is a new Spousal/Dependant Work Permit which will allow the spouses and dependants of Employment Permit holders who are entitled to reside here to apply for Work Permits. This will allow the spouses and dependants of work permit holders to help support their families. These applications will not require a labour market needs test and may be in respect of any occupation in the labour market.
At present a significant number of non-EEA students are pursuing courses of study in third level institutions. Given our skill shortages in certain strategically important areas, the Irish economy would benefit if some of these students stayed here to work after graduation.
These third level students may now apply to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service to remain in Ireland for six months after they have received their examination results. This will allow them time to seek employment and, if they are successful, to apply for a Green Card or Work Permit, as appropriate.If students have been offered a job prior to completing their degree they may also apply for a permit.
Towards 2016 contains a commitment that the employment of non-EEA students should be the subject of an employment permit application. This is a complex area and my Department is currently consulting with stakeholders and the social partners regarding the procedures and format of this type of employment permit.
Taken together, the new suite of employment permit schemes represents a coherent, flexible and responsive economic migration policy. Of course, I will keep the operation of these schemes under review to ensure that they continue to adapt to the changing needs of the economy and the employment market. Where necessary we will adapt and change their format and operation as the economy and employment market continues to develop.
New Protections for Migrant WorkersEmployment Rights Compliance
As regards compliance with employment rights more generally, the parties to the new social partnership agreement Towards 2016 agreed a major package of measures which include:
the establishment of a new statutory Office dedicated to employment rights compliance to be called the National Employment Rights Authority
a trebling of the number of Labour Inspectors to 90
the provision of legal, accounting and other administrative support to the new Office to ensure its effective functioning,
the proactive promotion of employment rights and
enhanced inspection arrangements.
I am pleased to say that Ger Deering, who will take up duty officially early next month, will lead the new Authority.
In accordance with the commitment by the parties in Towards 2016, a New Compliance Model is being developed which seeks to maximise the effectiveness of the substantially increased compliance effort and simplify the adjudication and redress mechanisms available in the employment rights area. The Model will include education and awareness programmes, promotional activities, increased inspection activity, increased penalties and improved access to redress.
This New Compliance Model seeks to maximise the effectiveness of the substantially increased compliance effort and simplify the adjudication and redress mechanisms available in the employment rights area. The general principles of the new compliance model will be:
that matters be resolved at the level of the workplace where possible;
that interactions between employers and employees and trade union representatives, as appropriate, be supported by the enhanced employment rights promotional and educational efforts directed at them; and
that initiation and ownership of cases will rest with the complainant, insofar as possible.
The legislative provisions necessary to establish the National Employment Rights Authority and to provide for other legislative commitments agreed in Towards 2016 in the area of Employment Rights, are currently being considered by my Department.
In conclusion then, I would say that the economic migration arrangements I have announced today will help us meet our objective of becoming an innovation-driven knowledge-based economy which continues to create high value jobs. They are also designed to ensure that in doing this we continue to ensure compliance with employee rights.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have contributed to the new arrangements we have launched today, including the social partners, the Expert Skills Group for Future Skills Needs, the staff of FAS and the staff of the Department, and in particular those in the Economic Migration Policy and Employment Permits Sections.
You will now receive a presentation by the Department on the detail of the new schemes.
Thank you for your attention.