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Accelerated work permits will benefit refugees

Minister of State Damien English

Work permits for people living outside the European Economic Area (EEA), including medical personnel, are now fast-tracked, Shannon Chamber members have been told.

And a faster system could well benefit the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled to these shores, bringing with them skills such as computer programming, with coding being taught in schools in Ukraine.

Members of the House HR Forum met Minister of State for Business, Employment and Trade Damien English last week to discuss labor market issues including delays in processing permits work for nationals of non-EEA countries.

The Minister reassures the House that recent delays are being reduced.

Applicants for a standard work permit are waiting 18 weeks or more, and Minister English said additional staff assigned to processing permits have made substantial progress in dealing with a backlog and will now focus on reducing the waiting period.

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The meeting, hosted by Clare TD Joe Carey and held virtually, allowed Helen Downes, Managing Director of Shannon Chamber, and members of the HR Forum to discuss these issues with the Minister.

Acknowledging that delays in work permit processing times are not acceptable, Minister English said: “We have experienced a significant increase in work permit applications over the past year which has had an impact on processing times.

“From the beginning of January to the end of December 2021, some 27,666 applications were received, which represents an increase of 69% compared to the same period in 2020 (16,293) and an increase of 47% compared to 2019. There was understaffed to deal with this influx.

The minister said an action plan is being implemented, including increasing resources and implementing more efficient methods of processing applications, and removing hundreds of doctors from the licensing system . The treatment team has tripled and daily production has more than tripled from 2021 levels.”

Minister English added that work permits for essential skills are now issued within six weeks. The focus is now on reducing the standard permit delivery time, which is currently 18 weeks.

While work permits are required for non-EEA HGV drivers and the quota for such permits has been removed, Minister English explained that the delays are also caused by difficulties in assessing the validity of licenses or qualifications drivers.