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Sponsored immigration

New hires

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Newly hired non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals are primarily employed in Ireland through the employment permit process. The two main types of employment permit in this regard are the Critical Skills Employment Permit and the General Employment Permit. There is an online application process for employment permits for which the applicant must submit certain prescribed information and documentation. Such permits will not be granted to companies unless:

  • 50% or more of their employees are EEA nationals (although there are some limited exceptions to this); or
  • the role in question is on the Ineligible Categories of Employment for Employment Permits List (ie, a list of roles that are ineligible for employment permits, except in certain exceptional circumstances).

Each employment permit category has its own specific criteria.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation describes the Critical Skills Employment Permit as being “designed to attract highly skilled people into the labour market with the aim of encouraging them to take up permanent residence in the State”. To be eligible for this permit, the applicant must:

  • be applying for a job that offers a minimum salary of €60,000 and, in this instance, they must have a relevant degree or specific experience;
  • where the salary is between €30,000 and €59,999, be applying for a job listed on the Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List (ie, a list of strategically important occupations) and, in this instance, they must have a relevant degree qualification or higher. The applicant must possess relevant qualifications, skills and experience and a two-year job offer from a bona fide employer.

The employer is not required to undertake the usual labour markets needs test. Critical Skills Employment Permits last for two years, after which, the holder can apply for a particular immigration stamp which, if granted, means that they will no longer need an employment permit, subject to having complied with the conditions of his or her previous immigration and employment permit and being of good character.

The eligibility criteria for a General Employment Permit are:

  • a job offer from a bona fide employer;
  • a job that offers a minimum salary of €30,000 (apart from a limited number of exceptions); and
  • a labour market needs test (apart from a limited number of exceptions).

The applicant must also possess the relevant qualifications, skills and experience for the job on offer. The maximum initial duration for a General Employment Permit is two years; however, after that two-year period it can be renewed for a further three years.

A Critical Skills Employment Permit or General Employment Permit provides the holder permission to work. Certain non-EEA nationals will also need a pre-entry visa. A non-EEA national who requires a pre-entry visa must first apply for an employment permit. Once this has been issued, he or she can then apply for a pre-entry visa.

Intra-company transfers

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to multinational employers seeking to transfer foreign employees to your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Multinational employers seeking to transfer foreign employees to Ireland can use the Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit or apply for an Atypical Permission.

The Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit facilitates the transfer of employees from an overseas branch of a multinational to its Irish branch for an accrued period of up to five years. In terms of eligibility, an applicant must:

  • be key personnel, senior management or personnel undergoing a training programme and earning a minimum of €30,000;
  • have worked for the foreign employer for a minimum of six months if key personnel or senior management or 12 months if personnel undergoing a training programme; and
  • earn a minimum base salary of €40,000 if key personnel or senior management or €30,000 if personnel undergoing a training programme.

In addition, there must be a link between the foreign employer and the Irish entity. The maximum period of stay under an Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit is two years initially, after which the permit can be renewed for a further three years. From March 26 2018 the Ineligible Categories of Employment for Employment Permits List no longer applies to Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit applications. This means that it is now possible to apply for an Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit even where the relevant job is on the above list.

Where an employer wishes to employ a non-EEA national in Ireland for a maximum of 90 days, it may be able to apply for an Atypical Permission, which relates to short-term employment or other employment situations not covered by employment permits legislation.

An Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit or Atypical Permission grants the holder permission to work. Certain non-EEA nationals will also require a pre-entry visa. A non-EEA national who requires a pre-entry visa must first apply for an employment permit. Once this has been issued, the applicant can apply for a pre-entry visa.

Do any special rules govern secondments?

Where a foreign company wishes to send a non-EEA national on a secondment and the company to which the employee is being seconded is a connected company, the employee may be in a position to apply for an Intra-Company Transfer Employment Permit if the secondment is for more than 90 days. Where the secondment is for 90 days or less, the foreign company may be in a position to apply for an Atypical Permission. There are no special rules for secondments except and to the extent that the applicant must be in a position to satisfy the usual criteria relevant employment permit.

Sponsor requirements and considerations

What are the eligibility and procedural requirements for employers to sponsor foreign employees?

To be eligible to sponsor a non-EEA national for an employment permit, an employer must be registered with the Irish Revenue Commissioners and the Companies Registration Office or Registry of Friendly Societies (if applicable) and must be trading in Ireland. At least 50% of the employer’s workforce must be EEA nationals at the time of the application, unless one of the limited exceptions applies. A labour market needs test will apply in most cases, except where:

  • the job is listed on the Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List;
  • the job is an eligible occupation with a minimum annual remuneration of €60,000;
  • there is a recommendation from Enterprise Ireland or the Industrial Development Authority;
  • the job offer is for the carer of a person with exceptional medical needs for whom the applicant has been caring before the application was made; or
  • the job offer relates to a non-EEA national who previously held a General Employment Permit or a Work Permit Employment Permit and was made redundant in the previous six months.

What ongoing reporting and record-keeping requirements apply to sponsors?

The most significant ongoing reporting and record-keeping requirements that apply to employers that employ non-EEA nationals with employment permits are:

  • an obligation to surrender an employment permit to the relevant department within four weeks of the non-EEA national’s cessation of employment; and
  • an obligation to retain certain records in respect of said non-EEA national concerning their employment (eg, books and records, including accounts), as may be prescribed.

In what circumstances (if any) must the employer submit to resident labour market testing before hiring or transferring foreign employees? Do any exemptions apply?

A labour market needs test is required for most employment permit applications. This requirement reflects government policy that:

  • jobs should be offered to suitably skilled EEA nationals first; and
  • employment permit applications should be accepted only where an employer can show that it has been unable to recruit an EEA national.

A labour market needs test will not be required where:

  • the relevant job is listed on the Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List;
  • the job offer concerns an eligible occupation with a minimum annual remuneration of €60,000;
  • there is a recommendation from Enterprise Ireland or the Industrial Development Authority;
  • the job offer is for the carer of a person with exceptional medical needs for whom the applicant has been caring before the application was made; or
  • the job offer concerns a non-EEA national who previously held a General Employment Permit or a Work Permit Employment Permit and has been made redundant in the previous six months.

Are there any annual quota limits or restrictions on certain positions that can be filled by foreign nationals?

The Irish employment permit system has certain quota limits to include the recently introduced quota concerning the employment of certain categories of foreign chef and the existing quotas relating to meat boners and heavy goods vehicle drivers. In addition, there are restrictions on certain positions that can be filled by non-EEA nationals. Non-EEA nationals cannot apply for an employment permit (except in limited circumstances and in respect of information and communications technology employment permits) for jobs on the Ineligible Categories of Employment for Employment Permits List. This list is reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

There are also restrictions on employment permits for non-EEA nationals concerning certain designated professional positions for which the applicant must be registered with, or have their qualifications recognised by, a specified Irish regulatory body.

Are there any immigration exemptions or other special schemes for shortage occupations in your jurisdiction?

There is an immigration exemption for shortage occupations. The Highly Skilled Eligible Occupations List includes jobs required for the proper functioning of the Irish economy for which there is a qualifications, experience or skills shortage. This list is reviewed on an ongoing basis and changes as and when skills shortages are identified. 

At present, the list contains specific jobs in the following sectors:

  • animation;
  • natural and social sciences;
  • engineering;
  • information and communications technology;
  • health and social services;
  • nursing and midwifery;
  • therapy;
  • teaching and education;
  • business;
  • research and administration;
  • quality and regulation; and
  • sales and marketing.

The main advantage of jobs being on this list is that the labour market needs test does not apply (ie, the job does not need to be advertised in order for an employment permit to be submitted).

How long does it typically take to obtain a sponsored visa? Is expedited visa processing available?

Non-EEA nationals need an employment permit to be legally employed in Ireland (unless they hold another type of immigration permit). They may also need a pre-entry visa if they are a national of a country that requires a visa to travel to Ireland.

An application for an employment permit generally takes between six to seven weeks; however, processing times depend on the number of permit applications that the relevant department has to process at that time. In addition, processing times tend to slow down around holiday periods (eg, in the summer months and around Christmas).

A company can apply for trusted partner status, which, if granted, streamlines the employment permit application process by reducing paperwork and providing faster processing times. Trusted partner status is primarily aimed at high-volume employment permit applicants. At present, trusted partner status applications take approximately three weeks to process (as opposed to six to seven weeks for standard applications).

Some non-EEA nationals require pre-entry visas (in addition to an employment permit). This is the case for all types of pre-entry visa, including employment visas. A non-EEA national who requires a pre-entry visa will need an employment visa if they are coming to Ireland to take up an employment permit. The turnaround time for visa processing depends on the processing time at the relevant Irish embassy. The Department of Justice and Equality recommends that Irish visa applications be submitted eight weeks before travel; however, in practice, visas are processed more quickly.

What rules govern the hiring of foreign third-party contractors?

Foreign third-party contractors may be able to apply for a Contract for Services Employment Permit where they are providing services to an Irish entity. The general criteria are as follows:

  • The foreign employer must have a direct contract with the Irish entity.
  • The employment permit will be granted only for the duration of the contract.
  • The employee must have been employed by the foreign employer for a minimum period of six months before the transfer.
  • The foreign employer must be registered with the Irish Revenue Commissioners as an employer and may need to register with the Irish Companies Registration Office.
  • The 50/50 rule applies in terms of there being an equivalent number of EEA and non-EEA nationals.
  • A labour market needs test may apply.

What are the penalties for sponsor non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

There are a number of offences under the Employment Permit Acts 2003, 2006 and 2014 regarding an employer’s non-compliance with the legislation. The main offences and penalties are as follows:

  • Employing a non-EEA national without an employment permit – on summary conviction, penalties are a fine not exceeding €3,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months or both. On conviction on indictment, penalties are a fine not exceeding €250,000, imprisonment for a term up to 10 years or both.
  • Failure to surrender an employment permit to the relevant department within four weeks of the termination or cessation of the holder’s employment – on summary conviction, the penalties are a fine not exceeding €5,000, imprisonment for a term up to 12 months or both.
  • Failure to retain prescribed records for an employment permit holder – on summary conviction, the penalties are a fine not exceeding €5,000, imprisonment for a term up to 12 months or both.

Are there any other special considerations for sponsors in your jurisdiction?

There are no additional special considerations for sponsors in Ireland.

General employee requirements

Must sponsored employees meet any language requirements?

Employees do not need to meet language requirements under the employment permit process.

Are sponsored employees subject to any medical checks?

Under the employment permit process, applicants are not subject to medical checks and information is not sought regarding an applicant’s medical health or history. Where a non-EEA national also needs a pre-entry visa (certain non-EEA nationals require such a visa), no information concerning the applicant’s medical health or history is sought in the visa application form. Under immigration legislation, an immigration officer may refuse to allow a non-national to enter Ireland where the applicant suffers from certain medical conditions.

Must sponsored employees meet any medical or other insurance requirements?

No, sponsored employees do not generally need to have medical or health insurance. 

Are sponsored employees subject to any security or background checks?

There is no obligation under the Irish employment permit application process to provide security or background information. Where a non-EEA national needs a pre-entry visa, the visa application form contains certain information concerning an applicant’s background and the applicant may need to provide a police certificate from their country of origin as part of this process.

Are sponsored employees subject to any restrictions on studying or working second or volunteer jobs?

The employment permit holder may also study, but only on a part-time basis. However, he or she cannot hold any other jobs, as an employment permit is employer-employee and job specific and is not a general permission to work.

Are there any rules or standards governing the equivalence of sponsored employees’ foreign qualifications?

For certain listed job positions, sponsored employees must be registered with or have their qualifications recognised by a specified Irish regulatory body before they can qualify for an employment permit.

What are the penalties for employee non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

The offences contained in the Employment Permit Acts 2003, 2006 and 2014 mainly apply to employers. The main offence concerning non-EEA national employees is being employed without an employment permit, which could result, on summary conviction, in a fine not exceeding €3,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months or both. In addition, under immigration legislation, non-EEA nationals must register with the Irish immigration authorities and keep them updated regarding certain personal details. Failure to do so is an offence and could result, on summary conviction, in a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both.

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