Irish immigration 2019 - A year in review

04 December, 2019

As the end of 2019 approaches, it is an appropriate time to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the changes and developments in the Irish immigration system throughout the year. As the year draws to a close, it is also an opportunity to prepare for modifications due to be implemented in 2020. 

With an ever increasing globally mobile population, the Irish immigration authorities have, over the last number of years, sought to review the system on an ongoing basis to ensure the Irish labour market maintains its attractiveness for inward talent. 

2019  saw the immigration authorities adopt a pragmatic approach with the following changes being most noteworthy: 

  • Introduction of Stamp 1G for spouses of Critical Skills employment permit holders enabling easier access to the labour market for this category of individuals 
  • Establishment of a preclearance scheme for the de facto partners of non EEA and Irish nationals providing more certainty for de facto partners 
  • Abolition of re-entry visa requirement for adults and children over the age of 16 

Eligible and highly skilled occupations list

Additions to the eligible and highly skilled occupations list were made throughout the year, in line with economic needs at a particular point in time, which is evidence of the Department of  Business, Enterprise & Innovations commitment to review the labour market requirements on an ongoing and real time basis.

Impact of Brexit

Whilst Brexit remains a contentious topic, the initial uncertainty and perhaps ambiguity somewhat waned. The preservation of the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland has offered a certain level of comfort to employers and employees alike. 

The position on the entitlement to “EU Treaty Rights” however is not so certain and it remains to be seen how UK citizens and their families will be impacted, once the UK leaves the EU.

Irish Residence Permits and citizenship applications

During 2018, almost 138,000 Irish Residence Permit applications were processed, indicative of  Ireland’s attractiveness to various categories of people. It would appear that the trend continued in 2019 if the heavy demand on the online appointments system is anything to go by!. 

In 2018, over 8,000 people became Irish citizens. 2019 however saw a lot of uncertainty and confusion in relation to citizenship applications, in particular the  requirement to have one year of continuous reckonable residence in the State immediately before the date of an application. 

Whilst this has been a topical issue, with the general policy of 6 weeks absence from Ireland in the year preceding the application being deemed as acceptable, the case of Roderick Jones v Minister for Justice & Equality catapulted the topic into the limelight. 

The initial ruling that even a single day absent from Ireland in year preceding application would jeopardize an application (meaning an applicant could not travel for holidays or work for even one day in the year before they submit an application). This ruling was subsequently overturned on 14 November by the Court of Appeal however there is not, as of yet, any clarity on what constitutes an acceptable period of absence in the year preceding an application. Legislation is likely to be passed addressing the issue and setting out permissible absences which will hopefully provide clarity for future applicants so this will be a closely watched space as we head into the new year.

General Scheme of the Employment Permits

1 November 2019 saw the announcement and publication of the General Scheme of the Employment Permits (Consolidation and Amendment) Bill 2019. This has been an eagerly awaited Bill and looks to address some of the inflexibilities in the operation of the current employment permits system, which can be restrictive in application. 

The key focus of Government is to modify the current system and introduce more flexibility, which will allow the system to adapt to changing economic circumstances and to keep pace with technological and process changes as they arise. 

The Bill focuses on some key areas, such as:

  • Streamlining the processes for Trusted Partner and renewal applications.
  • Improve the agility of the system by moving operational processes to Regulation for easier modification as circumstances require.
  • Allow for the refund of fees where the employment permit cannot be taken up in prescribed circumstances.
  • Simplifying the definition of remuneration and requirements around it as the current level of complexity has created difficulty for users of the employment permits system

The proposal for consolidation of the employment permit legislation would certainly be welcomed by practitioners and frequent users of the system.

There will be engagement from key stakeholders with the Minister on the proposals prior to the drafting of legislation to gather feedback and recommendations from a practical and operational perspective.

Amendments to Employment Permits Regulations

While it may take time for the above proposals to be implemented and enacted, 1 January 2020 will see the  implementation of amendments to the Employment Permits Regulations. It is important for employers and applicants to be aware of these changes, as follows: 

  • Increase in the remuneration threshold for Critical Skill employment permits from €30,000 to €32,000 and from €60,000 to €64,000 - these changes are indicative of the  high calibre and talent of individuals relocating here on this type of employment permit and indeed to realign the threshold to average annual earnings in the Irish market 

  • Increase in the duration of the Labour Market Needs Test from two to four weeks ensuring that employers adequately test the local  EEA labour market before proceeding with an offer to a non-EEA national  

These changes are as a  direct result of recommendations from submissions in relation to the Review of Economic Migration Policy in 2018 and again are evidence of Government's commitment to ongoing review and wider Public Consultation.

Minimum remuneration thresholds for employment permits

Following on from the remuneration changes mentioned above, it is worth mentioning the Department’s public tender for an evidence based study to propose a model for setting minimum remuneration thresholds for employment permits. The Department will use such a model to update remuneration thresholds as necessary going forward. 

This demonstrates a commitment to planning for the constantly changing and ever evolving Irish labour market and the associated fluctuations both in terms of the market and remuneration based considerations, in line with the standard of living at any given point in time.  This tender is intertwined with the Business Process Reengineering Review of the Employment Permit system. 

Whilst there has not yet been a report published on this review, the study of existing processes within the Employment Permits Section to identify efficiencies and identify new system requirements which will make full use of technological innovations and digitisation is a very welcome and indeed, eagerly anticipated move - we can likely expect further updates on the outcome  of the review throughout 2020. 

Expectations for 2020

So as 2019 draws to a close, there is plenty of food for thought as we move into 2020. 

In an age of digitisation and continuing evolving technology, Government is  taking positive steps to modernise, build and expand a user friendly employment permits system. 

With the increasing globally mobile population, the flexibility in how we work and pay for the retention of key talent is something which is very much on the minds of employers and employees alike. Let’s see what 2020 holds! 

Contact us

Mary O'Hara

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6215

Anne Bolster

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6209

Aoife Kilmurray

Senior Manager, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6117

Lindsay Tester

Manager, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 7165

Follow PwC Ireland