In 2018, Ireland received 45 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status and free mobility), 12% more than in 2017. This figure comprises 69% immigrants benefitting from free mobility, 21.7% labour migrants, 7.4% family members (including accompanying family) and 1.8% humanitarian migrants. Around 30 000 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 900 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 7 800 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2018, an increase of 26.7% compared to 2017. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

In 2019, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 29.7%, to reach around 4 700. The majority of applicants came from Albania (1 000), Georgia (600) and Zimbabwe (400). The largest increase since 2018 concerned nationals of Albania (+500) and the largest decrease nationals of Syria (-200). Of the 1900 decisions taken in 2019, 52.1% were positive.

Ireland’s employment permits system is managed through the operation of Occupations List (Critical skills and ineligible) for the purpose of granting employment permits, which are reviewed twice-yearly as part of an evidence-based process which involves a consultation process.

A 2018 Review of Economic Migration Policy recommended that the employment permit legislation be amended to ensure it is supportive of a changing labour market and economy into the future.

The new legislation, which is being drafted, includes amendments to the Labour Market Needs Test and introduces a Seasonal Employment Permit and Special Circumstances Employment Permit.

Since 2019, changes made to the Employment Permit system include an increase in the remuneration threshold for the Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) and the streamlining of processes allowing immediate access to the labour market for spouses/partners of CSEP holders and Researchers under a Hosting Agreement. Spouses/Partners of other permit holders are still required to obtain their own employment permit and self employment is not allowed. The twice yearly review of the occupation lists introduced other changes in areas of construction, haulage, hospitality and the agri-food sector.

In June 2018, the Irish State opted into the EU Reception Conditions Directive (2013/33/EU) which lays down standards for the reception of international protection applicants. These include access to the labour market, education, health care as well as reception conditions such as housing, food, clothing and expense allowances. Applicants for international protection have also been given the right to access the labour market where an applicant has not received a first instance decision on their application within 9 months of the application being lodged. Such a labour market access permission is granted for an initial period of 6 months, renewable if the applicant has not received a final decision on their application. From March 2019 the expenses allowances for residents in Direct Provision were increased to the levels recommended in the McMahon Report on Improvements to the Protection Process, published in 2015.

On 30th March, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) implemented a COVID-19 contingency plan to ensure the Employment Permit system continues to operate. Since then, all staff have been working remotely and manual operations have been adjusted to provide for the acceptance of electronic/scanned documents. Since this crisis began, DBEI has been prioritising the processing of employment permit applications for medical personnel on a daily basis and these applications will continue to be prioritised.

The Department of Justice and Equality has allowed migrants on a student visa to apply for the Third Level Graduate Programme to remain in Ireland after graduating and work full-time. However, due to the public health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, entry visa applications are currently being processed only in certain categories (e.g. health care professionals, transport personnel engaged in haulage of goods and other transport staff to the extent necessary and immediate family members of Irish nationals). Migrants with an approved employment permit outside of these categories are currently not able to travel to Ireland. Visas Permissions ending during the crisis are granted an automatic two-month extension.

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