‘We have a skilled workforce under our noses that we’re not using’
Confusion around visas pushing Irish employers away from hiring foreign nationals
Apurva Jain: ‘Sometimes I’m not even considered for the position and it’s very disheartening. I don’t get a chance to showcase what I can do. How can they judge me if they don’t meet me?’
When Indian student Apurva Jain arrived in Ireland last year, her plan was to find a job once she finished her master degree in data analytics.
That was until she started looking and ran up against major problems with employers’ understanding of the Department of Justice’s complicated Stamp system of work permits for non-EEA nationals.
There are several types of stamp with different names. Each one indicates a type of permission, including the activities the holder can – and cannot do – in Ireland and the time period they are allowed to stay.
With Stamp 2 permission to study in Ireland, Jain knew she was entitled to work here after graduation and began applying for jobs. However, after numerous rejections, she is convinced most employers do not believe she is allowed to work.
“Whenever I apply for a job the first thing an employer asks for is a Stamp 4 or EU citizenship. Sometimes I’m not even considered for the position and it’s very disheartening. I don’t get a chance to showcase what I can do. How can they judge me if they don’t meet me?
“Everyone coming here from outside the EU is facing the same issue. I sometimes feel employers here don’t know about the student visa, they just understand Stamp 4 is best.”
Deepthi Popuri, also from India, gave up searching for a job after 18 months of rejections. When her husband was offered a job in Cork on a critical skills employment permit, Popuri presumed she could also find employment. But every time she reached interview stage her application was dismissed.
“They were happy for the initial screenings but when I told them I was Stamp 3 they said we want Stamp 4. Companies are not willing to wait for you to get a work permit. I wasn’t able to figure out what was happening. Was it my fault?”
Like the thousands of other – mainly female – partners and spouses in Ireland on the Stamp 3, Popuri eventually realised most employers did not understand Stamp 3 holders could apply for jobs.
In March 2019, the Government introduced a new streamlining system for non-EEA partners and spouses of critical skills employment permit holders which entitles them to apply for work under the Stamp 1G without having to apply for a permit.
However, confusion and misinformation around the State’s Stamp system means many employers still believe they can only hire workers with Stamp 4 permission.
There are currently nine Stamps available to non-EEA nationals coming to Ireland. Stamp 0 means a person is only in Ireland temporarily and cannot work here, while Stamp 1 holders can work or run a business with an employment permit, while Stamp 1A is for people in full time accountancy training. The first strand of Stamp 1G allows students who have finished their studies to work in Ireland for a set period of time. It also allows the partners of critical skills employment holders and researchers access to the labour market.
Stamp 2 is given to students on full time courses while Stamp 2A goes to students on semesters abroad or studying at a private secondary school.
Stamp 3 holders cannot work but may apply for jobs and if successful, apply for a work permit.
Stamp 4 allows non-EEA nationals to work for a specific period of time while a Stamp 5 holder has permission to be in Ireland and the right to work without a work permit.
Stamp 6 is for Irish citizens with dual citizenship.
A national publicity campaign is needed to clarify who is allowed to work in this country, says senior recruitment consultant Conor Mulloy. “I want to see a simple flyer with all the info on visas and an awareness campaign with the benefits of hiring a person on a fixed term.”
While many employers complain of “skills shortages”, Mulloy has encountered “a massive pool of people with visas who are not being touched”.
Employers think hiring people from outside the EU is a hassle, he says. “We have a skilled workforce under our noses that we’re not using.”
Mulloy believes employers worried about delays should ask applicants to fill out the visa paperwork themselves. “They’re so motivated to get the job and very happy to do any extra legwork. Employers only see the paperwork. They don’t see you can reach into someone’s life and help them while benefitting your company.”
He likes reminding employers of the barriers faced by Irish emigrants in United States in the 1980s. “What you would have given for a leg up then yet now you won’t give the leg up here?”
Anita Walsh, chief people officer at Ward Solutions online security provider, believes fear of the unknown and potential costs is stopping organisations from hiring people from outside Europe. Young workers from non-EEA countries “bring a different though process” she says, adding that her company as “benefitted hugely” from their skills.
“These are people who are willing and ready to work. If you’re looking for a specialist niche you could be four to five months looking in Ireland but could turn around a visa for a (non-EEA) workers in six to eight weeks. We have a really diverse work force and I don’t think we’d have it any other way.”
Back in Cork, Popuri plans to restart her job search this summer after she completes the studies she embarked on after becoming disillusioned by constant rejections as a Stamp 3 holder. She hopes that under the new regulations, which entitle her to the Stamp 1G, that she will find employment. “If you want something you have to keep trying. Hopefully the system will change now. It will be beneficial to society as a whole and for individuals to gain confidence in themselves.”