COVID-19 has been a key talking point throughout 2020 with lots of discussion about the impact of the global pandemic on the economy. The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted businesses worldwide and inherent in that is the repercussions on the movement of people and immigration.
Employers are concerned with ensuring their employees are safe and well whilst trying to maintain compliance with local immigration rules and obligations to guarantee continuity of ability to work in their current location.
The Irish immigration authorities have responded practically and positively to COVID-19 by introducing a number of measures and contingency arrangements to deal with issues associated with COVID-19 and immigration.
Arrangements have been put in place by both the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) , who maintain responsibility for the employment permits regime, as well as by the Department of Justice and Equality (DJE), whose responsibility in the immigration space includes residence permissions for individuals currently in Ireland.
Some of the key changes which have been implemented by the immigration authorities over the last six months to ensure continuity in legal residence and the processing of employment permit applications. These changes provided clarity for those working remotely, both in Ireland and in either their home or other country.
These are listed below:
Facilitation of change in start date during employment permit processing.
Individuals who have a renewal employment permit application pending can continue to work while their application is pending.
Stamp 4 support letter applications now submitted via email to a dedicated email address. The move to submission of applications via email has been driven by closure of offices due to COVID-19 and it is not yet clear whether this change will remain on a permanent basis going forward.
Appeals for refusals of applications can be submitted to a dedicated email address as can applications for Trusted Partner status - the requirement for hard copies of supporting documentation to be submitted has been removed.
Requirement for notification of temporary lay off, reduction in hours or salary to be made to DBEI. The general position is that any change to the terms and conditions of an employment permit should be notified to the DBEI however this is more important than ever in the context of COVID-19.
Move to an online system for renewal of residence permissions for those residing in Dublin only. Those residing outside of Dublin should continue to email their local immigration office to arrange an in-person appointment.
Move to an online system for Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) applications. This has been expected for some time, however, the timing of the move to the online system is very welcome given the challenges of COVID-19.
Currently only the certified employer's copy of the employment permit is being issued. This is a temporary change and once offices reopen etc hard copies of the employee permit and certified employer’s copy of the permit will be issued.
It is recommended that anyone travelling to Ireland on an employment permit that has issued in PDF carry a print out version with them when seeking entry to Ireland.
100% refund of Government fee where applications are withdrawn as a result of COVID-19; previously this was 90% where applications were withdrawn.
Confirmation that working outside of Ireland for an extended period will not be considered grounds for revocation of an employment permit.
Surrender of permits within four weeks.
Requirement for surrender of employment permits within four weeks of cessation of employment relaxed; the expectation is that hard copies of the employment permit will be returned for cancellation once employers or employees are in a position to do so.
Requirement for employers to notify the DBEI of employment permit holders working remotely either in Ireland or abroad.
Introduction of temporary measure for first-time arrivals in the State who were unable to register and obtain an IRP due to office closures to email Burgh Quay and obtain a temporary letter confirming permission to reside. This has since been lifted due to reopening of offices and first-time registrants can now book an appointment online to attend in person in Dublin to register.
For those outside of Dublin, contact should be made with the local immigration office.
Automatic extension of immigration permissions for those already legally resident in Ireland up until 20 January 2021.
Temporary measure enabling individuals to seek change in status via email, for example: for those converting permission in country, i.e. from Stamp 1 to Stamp 4; this has now been replaced with the online renewal system for those in Dublin.
Flexibility in cancellation of valid AWS permissions with agreement to reissue at a later date where travel is required, negating the requirement for a fresh application, subject to updated documentation being provided
The above measures are aimed at easing concerns of first-time arrivals to Ireland as well as those already residing in Ireland. The Irish immigration authorities have and continue to adopt a pragmatic approach that continues to be monitored and addressed as developments unfold.
Steps to moving the immigration processes online has been a welcome move by the authorities and demonstrates the gradual move towards a streamlined online immigration system in Ireland.
As the months pass, it is becoming increasingly evident that COVID-19 has changed the way businesses operate and how we work. Although there is no certainty as to how the movement of people and remote working will look for the future, there are some key points which employers should consider when forecasting for 2021 and beyond: