On 23 May 2014, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, published the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014. The law, when enacted, will reform and modernise Ireland’s employment permits system as part of a government plan to make Ireland the top global location for ICT skills and the internet capital of Europe.
The new legislation follows other reforms in this area including a reduction of 58% in the processing time for employment permits; improvements in the appeals process; and increases in the number of skilled graduates available in Ireland.
Notably, the Bill addresses the deficiencies of current law which were highlighted in the Younis case. Here, the High Court held that existing employment permit legislation prevented an undocumented worker from seeking redress under Irish labour law as the employment contract could not be recognised. The new Bill aims to prevent employers from benefiting from illegal employment contracts in situations where an employee does not hold an employment permit.
Also, of interest to employers is the fact that the legislation proposes to create nine categories of employment permit. These are:
- A Critical Skills Employment Permit to replace the “Green card” which currently exists. This type of permit has been designed to address critical shortages of skills, which will be identified in Regulations. In order to attract individuals who possess such skills, this permit type allows immediate family reunification and a fast track to residency. In addition, a number of the criteria normally applying to issue of an employment permit will be waived for this category;
- A Spouses, Civil Partners and Dependents Employment Permit, to enable the family members of holders of Critical Skills Employment Permits to work in the State. This employment type is also designed to provide work permits for the family members of researchers admitted into EU member states under Council Directive 2005/71/EC;
- A General Employment Permit, which will issue in cases where a contract for a designated highly skilled occupation has been offered for a duration of less than two years, or for other occupations, apart from those included on a list of ineligible jobs, where a number of other criteria have been met;
- An Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit, to allow for the temporary transfer of employees between affiliated foreign and Irish companies;
- A Reactivation Employment Permit, to allow for the return of individuals to employment who had fallen out of the employment permits system through no fault of their own;
- A Contract for Services Employment Permit, to allow the employee of a foreign company that has entered a contract with an Irish company to work in the State;
- An Exchange Agreement Employment Permit, to allow individuals to whom a designated exchange agreement applies to work in the State;
- A Sports and Cultural Employment Permit, to allow individuals with sporting or cultural expertise to work in the State; and
- An Internship Employment Permit, to allow students of foreign institutions to work in the State, where that is a key component of the course which they are following.
The Bill also adjusts the criteria for issue of an employment permit, in order to strike a balance between the skills needs of enterprise and the stability of the labour market, for example, waiving certain criteria where an individual in question possesses ‘critical skills’.
While this bill has not yet been enacted, it is important for employers to be au fait with these changes to the work permit system, as they too have a duty to ensure their employees have valid work permits.