Sharp rise in work permit applications triggers backlog

Approximately 2,855 in work permit queue, compared to 2,500 at same point last year

For strategically important occupations, the income threshold increased from €30,000 to €32,000. File photograph: Getty

For strategically important occupations, the income threshold increased from €30,000 to €32,000. File photograph: Getty

 

A 45 per cent spike in work permit applications last month has caused a significant backlog in people awaiting decisions for permission to work in the State, and led to delays in processing applications across the board.

Some 2,855 people are in the work permit queue, compared to 2,500 at the same point last year.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which administers the scheme, had managed to get the figure down to 2,238 at the beginning of December, but there was a rush in the last two weeks of the year in advance of changes to employment permit regulations which came in on the first day of 2020.

Among other technical reforms, the new rules on employment permit regulations changed increased income thresholds, which are minimum salaries that must be achieved before someone is eligible for a work permit. For strategically important occupations, the income threshold increased from €30,000 to €32,000. For other occupations, it increased from €60,000 to €64,000.

The American Chamber continues to call for further digitisation of the visa and permit processing regime

The influx of new applications has delayed the average turnaround time for a work permit application, attracting criticism from large employers, including US multinationals.

Mark Redmond, the chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that while the Government’s efforts to bring down waiting times and tackle the backlog, “any time delays or impediments experienced by international talent may affect Ireland’s attractiveness for decision makers”.

Fast-track applications from so-called “trusted partners” have seen their average waiting period grow from three to four weeks to six weeks as a result of the spike, while standard applications are taking 12 weeks rather than 10 or 11.

“The American Chamber continues to call for further digitisation of the visa and permit processing regime in particular resourcing and increased speed of delivery on the rollout of promised digital and technical solutions,” Mr Redmond said.

‘Skills shortage’

Robert Troy, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on business, also criticised the backlog. “I have been contacted by many businesses since becoming enterprise spokesperson, who are very worried about not being able to fill positions due to severe skills shortages. It also represents a massive competitiveness challenge to Ireland’s economy,” he said.

The Department of Business said 2019 marked an 11-year high in the number of applications for employment permits, with a total of 18,940 received, a 13 per cent increase over 2018. There was a similarly high level of decisions made, with 18,655 determinations arrived at last year, a 22 per cent increase on 2018.

A spokeswoman for the department said that processing timelines are “good by international standards”. She said that additional staffing resources have been assigned to the section “with a further allocation coming on stream in the coming weeks”.

“The department’s officials consistently proactively engage with customers to notify them of current processing timelines through email, meetings and regular updates on the employment permits section of the DBEI website.”

The spokeswoman said timelines for work permits will return towards 2019 averages “in the coming weeks”.