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Non-EU workers face tough rules in permit clampdown

Non-EU immigrants in Ireland will face tough new rules from June making it harder for them to find work.

In a clampdown on incoming foreign workers, permits will no longer be granted for HGV drivers, domestic workers or low-paid positions.

Higher charges will be rolled out to renew permits, meanwhile, and it will become harder for the spouses of work permit holders to get work permits themselves.

Employers will have to prove they have made strenuous efforts to fill any post being made available to a foreign worker with a worker already in this country. And no work permits will be issued for jobs that pay under €30,000 a year.

The tightening of work permit regulations comes as unemployment, currently at 11pc, is expected to head towards 500,000 this year.

The Government says "a tougher labour-market needs test for future permit applications and renewals" will apply under the new regime.

The clampdown is to allow "maximum opportunity" for job vacancies to be filled from within Ireland and the European Economic Area (EEA) -- which is comprised of the EU, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Requests for work permits are declining, however, with applications falling to 623 last month from a peak of 3,693 in July 2007. Currently some 30,000 people, or 1.5pc of the labour force, are holders of employment permits.

The more stringent eligibility criteria -- which come in the wake of a comprehensive review of the work permit system -- are being applied to applicants from June 1.

Job categories to be made ineligible for new work permits will include domestic workers and HGV drivers, while the rules applied to other job categories will be constantly under review.

The labour market needs test will be strengthened by a doubling to eight weeks -- and six days in the national press -- of the period for which a job must be advertised before it is offered to a non-EEA worker.


There will also be tougher conditions for the renewal of permits -- with higher fees and a requirement for labour market needs criteria to be met on renewal of current permits.

The criteria for the spouses of permit holders will also be tightened. Up until now, it was relatively easy for permit holders' spouses to obtain a work permit themselves. But under the new rules, the spouse will have to apply for permits in their own right -- subject to the standard eligibility criteria and fees.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said migration policies must be adapted on an ongoing basis to ensure they remain a successful tool of economic policy.

But Fine Gael said tightening of the rules on spouses and work permit renewals would force migrants on to the dole, costing the taxpayer up to €200m a year, or into the €3.5bn black economy.

However, FG immigration spokesman Denis Naughten said the review of work permit rules and labour market tests for non-EEA applicants was welcome and long overdue.

"The new and stricter conditions that are being placed on migrants wishing to come to Ireland are to be welcomed, but why did the Government not implement this measure 12 or 18 months ago?" he asked.

"Rolling renewals and spousal permits into these new conditions, however, will actually make the situation worse in some areas."

But a spokesman for the Tanaiste said the restrictions were necessary. "In the current economic climate, we need to have labour market policies to reflect the changes," he said.