Work permit delays could hit summer hospitality, says restaurant body

Officials are trying to clear backlog in applications

Issues with obtaining work permits for non-EEA nationals is threatening the viability of the hospitality industry, according to restaurateurs and lobby groups.

The sector has been beset with staff shortages ever since the Covid-19 lockdowns when many staff left or retrained.

Most new applicants and a lot of existing staff come from outside the EEA and must get a work permit, but there is a serious backlog of applications to be processed.

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, is calling for an emergency meeting with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to discuss the issue. “Tourists coming to Ireland this summer will not be able to find anywhere to eat,” he said.


Hospitality worker permits should be upgraded to critical skills permits, he added. “It is taking over 20 weeks to process permits currently. Officials say they have increased their staff, but the backlog won’t be solved until September, which is too late.”

He says the current system is not fit or purpose and is affecting a range of sectors. However, efforts by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to reduce the backlog of applications have been acknowledged within the sector.

Gaz Smith of Michael’s restaurant in Mount Merrion in Dublin thanked the department for moving to alleviate work visa issues for three of his employees.

Mr Smith, who runs Michael’s in Mount Merrion in south Dublin, said the department had confirmed that people working in a role for two years would be recognised as qualified and would be able to obtain work permits on this basis, thereby saving three members of his staff whose future was uncertain.

“I have to say credit where it’s due. We had very productive interactions with the Department of Enterprise and work permit offices and Ministers throughout today,” the chef said on Twitter on Thursday evening, having earlier posted about his application problems.

“This conversation was incredibly vital to have today and hopefully will lead to further engagement from us on the ground.”

The department said in a statement on Thursday that since January 2020 employment permits may be issued to commis chefs with a minimum of two years’ experience in the role.

“In order for an employment permit to be renewed, a permit holder is expected to have worked for the full duration of their previous permit with the employer specified on the permit and have received the remuneration as set out on the employment permit,” a department spokesperson said.

The Department also advised that people should continue to work while their renewal permit is being processed, and no one will be asked to stop working or leave the country, even if their old employment permit has expired. “When an employment permit has issued the permit holder may apply to the Department of Justice to update their immigration permission.”

Opening days

Speaking to The Irish Times on Thursday afternoon, Mr Smith predicted that inflation, combined with staff shortages, would be detrimental to the sector, with many restaurants already on reduced opening days.

He also hits back at the idea that the industry wants cheap labour. “There’s no cheap labour in Dublin, it’s simply not there as the rents are so high. We pay at least over 30 per cent over minimum wage, the staff get good tips, we mind them.”

He called for a 12-month amnesty on work permits until the issue is resolved.

Djeny Amanda is one of the Michael’s staff who was awaiting clarification on her permit. Originally from Sâo Paulo in Brazil, she started working as a kitchen porter in 2019. “Gaz really looked after us, he said no one would lose their jobs during Covid. We stayed on, we wanted to help him.”

She works across the kitchen, preparing food. Her original work permit application was sent back in October, and they received the first rejection in January, which was appealed.

Waiting times

The department said it recognised the impact delays on the processing times for work permits had for businesses and their workers and had implemented an action plan to reduce processing times built up over the past year. The processing team has trebled in size and daily output has more than tripled from 2021 levels, it added.

“The department expects to see a consistent strong fall in waiting times from mid-May.”