Work visas not working for tech sector
Ireland’s cumbersome system for granting non-EU workers visas has become a difficulty for an expanding high-tech sector trying to hire skilled staff
UNLIKE MANY other industries, the tech sector in Ireland is hiring. Or at least, it’s trying to.
While an effort has been made to turn out an increasing number of graduates with high-tech skills from Irish universities, companies are finding that other areas are lacking, particularly when they need experienced candidates for more senior roles. And it’s not just a problem for Ireland: other European countries are feeling the pinch from the lack of talent.
An EU-wide initiative may help ease the issue, for some European countries at least. The so-called blue card gives highly skilled workers from outside the EU a visa that allows them to work across the region, encouraging mobility of labour. It has already been implemented in some countries, and Germany is set to implement it from August 1st.
But Ireland, along with the UK and Denmark, has yet to sign up to the scheme, although it could do so later. Instead, it operates a green card scheme, designed to facilitate recruitment of workers from outside the EU with specific talents in short supply here.
The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation says the current policies are “strongly linked” to enterprise development, and the green card allows the country to attract the people needed to “move our economy to a new level”.
Although IDA Ireland and other State agencies may be able to lend a helping hand to client companies with employment permit applications to the department, smaller IT firms outside these agencies may find the process daunting.
“It’s quite a cumbersome process,” said John Dennehy of Zartis. “Smaller companies often don’t have an internal HR manager, and they may not even know it [the scheme] exists. So a lot of smaller IT companies ignore applicants from outside the EU as they think it’s going to be too hard to get them in.”
To get the green card visa you must first have a job. This requirement can hold up the recruitment process, as companies struggle with the bureaucracy. Jane Lorigan, managing director of recruitment firm Saongroup.com, said anecdotal evidence suggested the process can be lengthy, and by the time the visa has been granted the candidate may no longer be available.
Relaxing the regime for highly skilled workers may be the way forward and could create even more jobs in the economy as the knock-on effects hit local businesses, said Dennehy.
“If you brought in 10,000 people with computer science degrees, they would all have jobs within two or three months. Companies are crying out for those skills. We don’t have enough people in Ireland. They’re not going to take anybody’s jobs, because jobs are vacant,” he said.
The idea of open borders, however, may cause concern, with people worried that it may be taken advantage of.
“Right now the immigration policy is set as if there is only one type of person, and from a fear factor we’re saying, ‘Let’s not allow anyone in’,” said Seán O’Sullivan of Open Ireland.
He pointed out that this was driving companies away from employing high-tech talent in Ireland. Companies can’t get the workers and are losing business as a result, he said.
“I think it’s one of the silent things that has been hitting us like a ton of bricks for the past few years. In other areas of the economy if you had 2 per cent growth it would be stunning but in the IT area if you’re not growing at 20 per cent a year you’re falling behind,” he said.
Recent figures from the American chamber of commerce estimated US firms have 2,500 vacancies here. Only 55 per cent of the companies said they could fill all their vacancies in Ireland, making it essential to look outside to attract skilled talent.
Dennehy estimates that the true figure is much higher, as firms may not pitch aggressively for research and development projects here because they find it hard to hire tech skills.
But businesses may stay quiet about it, not wanting to advertise to their international parents that they cannot get the talent in the Irish market, said O’Sullivan.
“There is a lot of cannibalism going on, with the indigenous companies being raided for talent by the international companies,” he said.