Sixty non-EU lorry drivers apply for permits since quota lifted

Passed HGV driving tests increased 25% in 2021 but more than 2,200 still awaiting test

A total of 60 applications for work permits for lorry drivers from outside the European Union have been received since a quota was lifted in October to attract more heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

The Department of Trade said most of the applications related to South African drivers. The low take-up of applications reflects the challenge facing the industry of attracting new drivers into the country amid an international shortage of lorry drivers.

The road haulage industry has estimated there is a shortage of between 3,000 and 4,000 lorry drivers and has been pushing the Government to find ways to attract more foreign drivers.

New figures from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) show while there was a 25 per cent increase in the number of HGV driving tests passed in 2021 compared with the previous year, there are still 2,245 people awaiting lorry driver tests with an eight to 10 week delay to sit the test.

The number of people awaiting a test as of this week has more than doubled on the same period last year. Some 3,452 people passed tests last year, compared with 2,766 the year before.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic led to long delays for driving tests. But when testing resumed in June 2020 following an easing of restrictions the RSA deemed all who applied for HGV tests “essential workers”, thus prioritising them for tests.

The RSA said that of those awaiting a test, some 1,142 have received an invitation to book an appointment but had not used it within 10 days.

Last October, Minister of State for Business Damien English abolished the quota of 320 for employment permits granted to HGV drivers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), even though just 187 such employment permits had been issued – mainly to South Africa.

The Department of Transport has said the process of approving drivers from other countries takes time, as mutual recognition of road safety standards must be checked and approved before licence exchange agreements with other countries can be reached to help tackle the shortage.

The low take-up of applications for work permits for non-EEA lorry drivers shows availability of permits is not an obstacle to recruitment, though the industry has said the complicated application process can deter people from applying.

"People are coming from quite a distance and the application process is an onerous and time-consuming process before a driver is ready to work," said Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association.

“Sixty applications from South Africa, taking all the different complications and cost into account, is a strong figure and will probably rise further.”

Multiple countries

Australia, Japan and South Korea are among the countries open to applicants.

The Department of Transport is exploring potential licence exchange agreements with Moldova, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Argentina to attract more drivers.

The department said Minister of State with responsibility for International and Road Transport Hildegarde Naughton met the Moldovan ambassador last month and the RSA has received further information to progress this agreement.

The RSA is reviewing a due diligence questionnaire from North Macedonia, while a similar questionnaire is awaited from Argentina before those agreements can be progressed.

Further clarification is being sought from Ukraine on its response.

Last week, EU driving and resting regulations were relaxed for hauliers due to the shortage of drivers caused by the surge in infections as a result of the Omicron variant.