Nursing homes and other health sector employers will be permitted to recruit staff from outside the European Union and European economic area under changes to the work-permit system announced by the Government.
Under the moves healthcare assistants will be eligible for employment permits while dieticians will qualify for a critical-skills employment permit.
Social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists will also now be deemed as occupations eligible for an employment permit. The changes are aimed at facilitating increased recruitment by the Health Service Executive.
Minister of State for Employment Damien English said on Monday that the changes would "address immediate skills and labour shortages in the healthcare and nursing home sectors". They are to come into effect immediately.
Under the Government’s employment-permit system a list of critical skills and of those occupations considered ineligible are reviewed twice annually, taking account of labour market conditions and submissions made by particular sectors.
The Minister said evidence within the healthcare sector suggested there was increasing competition for skilled candidates in several healthcare roles. Despite increased efforts to recruit from the Irish and European labour markets, including through engagement with the Department of Social Protection, supply had not met demand.
“One of the principal beneficiaries of today’s announcement will be the nursing-home sector following the removal of healthcare assistants from the ineligible occupation list . . . The impact of Covid-19 also means that the demand for healthcare assistants is likely to continue to be significant,” said Mr English.
The number of people aged over 65 is projected to rise by nearly 60 per cent by 2031 while the number of people aged over 85 is anticipated to increase by 95 per cent over the same period.
The Minister said he had also decided “there will be a requirement that they [healthcare assistants] should have attained a relevant QQI Level 5 qualification after two years’ employment”.
The Minister said a minimum annual remuneration threshold of €27,000 had been set for healthcare assistants recruited under the scheme. He said the new framework would be reviewed after 12 months to ensure that changes announced on Monday meet sector needs.
He said that in addition the HSE planned to take on up to 16,000 additional personnel to increase capacity in the public system.