Work permit rules eased for chefs, nurses and construction workers

Minister moves to address significant skills shortages in key sectors

Under the changes, all chef grades are eligible for an employment permit. Photograph: iStock

Under the changes, all chef grades are eligible for an employment permit. Photograph: iStock


Changes to the State’s work permit regime to address labour shortages will allow more chefs, nurses and construction workers from outside the European Union to work here.

The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys said on Wednesday that the changes will come into effect from January 1st to address immediate shortages in sectors such as hospitality, construction, health and road haulage.

Under the changes, all chef grades will be eligible for an employment permit. Previously, a commis chef could not be employed and there was a cap of 610 permits in the sector. Ms Humphreys has removed the cap and sanctioned the removal of commis chefs from the ineligible list.

“Chefs account for the highest number of vacancies in the hospitality sector and the shortage of commis chefs is feeding into shortages at higher and specialist level,” she said, noting that employment in the tourism sector is expected to more than double to 310,000 by 2025.

Fáilte Ireland welcome

Fáilte Ireland welcomed the change, saying the measures will significantly help to alleviate the skills shortage in the tourism and hospitality sector.

“Tourism is now one of Ireland’s biggest employers and in order to ensure the sector can continue to grow and make vital economic contributions to Ireland, it is critical that the skills shortage is recognised and addressed as one of the most complex challenges facing the industry,” said Jenny De Saulles, Fáilte Ireland’s director of sector development.

In the construction sector where demand for labour is outstripping supply, Ms Humphreys moved most professional occupations in the sector to the critical skills occupations list – which makes them eligible for work permits with no cap on numbers. She signalled, however, that these changes will not remain in place for the long term .

“In the longer term, I expect the sector to continue to develop strategies to reskill and recruit from the domestic and EEA labour market and invest in innovation wherever possible,” Ms Humphreys said.


In health, moves were made to address the shortage of nurses in the State. At present, nurses from outside the European Economic Area – EU states plus Iceland, Norway and Liechstenstein – can access a permit but that only allows for family reunification after 12 months and those family members cannot automatically access the labour market. Under the new measures, there will be immediate reunification, broad access to the labour market and a fast track to long-term residency after two years.

Lobby groups Nursing Homes Ireland and Home and Community Care Ireland criticised the Government, saying the role of healthcare assistant should also have been removed from the categories ineligible for work permits. They suggested about 800 healthcare assistant roles are vacant across the private and voluntary nursing home sector.

A Department of Business spokeswoman said the healthcare sector has been advised repeatedly that it has not sufficiently demonstrated that its labour challenges are due to shortages. It is understood that privately employed healthcare assistants are being paid between 16 per cent and 33 per cent less than those employed in the public system.

HGV drivers

Finally, in the haulage sector, a minor change was made to extend the quota for HGV drivers by 200.

The State’s employment permits system is managed through lists which are reviewed twice yearly. The review is finalised based on official labour market data and submissions from industry representatives. Minimum salaries for those on the critical skills list is €32,000 per year while on the general list it is generally €30,000, although in certain categories that can fall to €22,000.

“The sectors involved have had to prove that they are making every effort to recruit staff domestically and train up workers. Ultimately this is the primary way of dealing with labour shortages in the longer term,” Ms Humphreys said.