Number of non-EU workers in Ireland falls by 41% in year

 

THE NUMBER of people from outside the EU working in the Republic fell 41 per cent during 2009 as the recession took hold and the Government introduced new restrictions on issuing work permits.

The rapid increase in unemployment among immigrant workers is raising serious concerns among migrant rights groups, who say they are seeing a rise in destitute and undocumented immigrants.

The Government issued 7,942 employment permits to non-EU nationals last year, compared to 13,565 permits in 2008 and 23,604 permits in 2007.

Half of the employment permits granted by the Government in 2009 were new applications while the remainder were renewals for migrants already working here.

Indians are the biggest group of non-EU nationals working in the State and currently hold 1,782 employment permits.

This compares to 3,273 permits issued to Indian nationals in 2007.

About 1,424 permits were issued to Filipinos in 2009, down from 2,194 a year earlier.

There were 551 employment permits issued to US nationals, the third-biggest group of immigrant workers in the Republic in 2009.

Anybody from outside the EU seeking to work here must hold a valid employment permit from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

In the days of full employment during the Celtic Tiger, Fás was actively recruiting non-EU nationals at job fairs in South Africa and North America.

However, the huge rise in unemployment last year led the Government to introduce new restrictions on non-EU nationals seeking employment permits last June.

The new rules require employers to advertise longer to try to find Irish or EU nationals for positions before offering a job to or getting a reissued visa for a migrant worker from outside the EU.

Permits are no longer issued for most lower-paid positions under €30,000 and certain categories of workers. HGV drivers and domestic workers are no longer eligible to take up positions in the Republic.

The Government has also taken a tougher line on issuing spousal visas for non-EU migrant workers and increased the fee for renewing an employment permit.

“Obviously, our own unemployment figures are still very severe. We are above 12 per cent unemployment and so we have to make sure that our own labour market is compatible with the current situation,” said Dara Calleary, Minister of State for Labour Affairs, who added that the Government was constantly reviewing the system.

Uunemployment, which currently stands at 12.4 per cent, is hitting immigrant workers particularly hard and raising questions over their right to remain here.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland received 500 calls about redundancy and 2,100 calls about renewing work permits in the last 12 months, highlighting the difficulty non-EU nationals face when they lose their jobs and want to remain in Ireland.

“It is hugely problematic for people working here for less than five years who lose their job and must find a new one within six months to obtain a work permit and remain in the country,” says Siobhán O’Donoghue, director of the Migrant Rights Centre, another NGO working to protect the rights of migrant workers’ in Ireland.

“We are seeing a big increase in the number of former work permit holders at our drop-in centre who have lost their jobs. We are also noticing a huge increase in destitution, with many people afraid to access social welfare in case it affects their long-term residency,” she said.

The employment permit statistics released by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment also give a snapshot into the sectors of the economy where non-EU nationals tend to be working.

Service industries are the biggest single employer of non-EU nationals, accounting for 2,970 permits, followed closely by the medical and nursing sector which accounted for a further 2,115 of the employment permits issued in 2009.

The catering sector accounts for 1,285 permits, while 783 permits have been issued to industry this year.

The biggest single employer of non-EU nationals in the State in 2009 was the Health Service Executive (HSE), which applied for 524 employment permits on behalf of staff.

The second-biggest was Indian technology company Wipro technologies (146 employment permits), and the third-biggest is IBM (76 employment permits), according to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

'I really want to stay here as I have integrated into society'

CASE STUDY: MOHAMED ZEROUKI is a 36-year-old Moroccan. He came to the Republic in 2003 to work for the Asia Market in Dublin.

He has been out of work for almost a year and fears he may now lose his right to remain in the country.

“I wanted to come to Ireland to learn English and get to know the culture. My aunt has lived in Ireland since 2000 and she helped to find an employer who could arrange my work permit for me.

“In 2003, I got a job as a delivery man for a Chinese company here in Dublin.

“I worked for them for three years but it was very tough work because I had to lift very heavy boxes and I had problems with my back.

“I gave this job up and found a new job with a restaurant in 2007. They let me go about a year later and, since then, I have been looking for a new employer who can sponsor me for a new work permit.

“Because of the recession, this is extremely difficult. I have applied for lots of jobs with no luck so far. I have had one interview . . . but they said they were not able to renew my work permit.

“It is very hard to get a job without a work permit and impossible to get a work permit without a job.

“I am currently living on job seeker’s allowance worth €204 per week and I get a rent supplement.

“My visa is due to run out next summer, and I am worried that I may not be able to stay in Ireland.

“I have written to the Minister for Justice asking for residency rights but he has replied saying I need to work until 2011 to qualify.”

Under new rules introduced in September, a holder of an employment permit who has worked for five consecutive years in Ireland before being made redundant can stay here and work without obtaining a new permit.

Migrants who have worked in Ireland for less than five years or who have had breaks in their employment (such as Mr Zerouki) preventing them accruing five years of consecutive work may lose their residency rights.

“The situation in Morocco is quite difficult and there are very few jobs,” says Mr Zerouki.

“I really want to stay in Ireland as I’ve integrated into society and find Irish people really friendly.”