Work permit team to expand as delays continue to threaten business growth

Staff shortages have seen the demand for work permits hit a record high

Lengthening delays in the processing of employment permits are an issue for many businesses

Sean Pollock

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has received approval to increase the size of its work permit processing team, meaning it will be over three times the size it was in early November, as it struggles to deal with the highest number of applications since 2008 when electronic records began.

Lengthening delays in the processing of employment permits has become a dominant issue for many businesses as they struggle to find staff to fill critical positions while labour shortages bite.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, Stripe co-founder John Collison recently raised the delay in processing work permits as a top priority at a meeting with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

A recent survey by Grant Thornton reported that nearly a quarter of businesses felt their growth over the next year would be hindered due to difficulties securing work permits, with 23pc also pointing to the lengthening processing time for permits for non-resident employees.

A department spokesman said processing times had been affected by a “significant increase in applications” in 2021. It received 27,666 applications from employers last year, up 47pc on 2019 – a record high figure since 2008 when electronic records began.

He said the department had recognised the effect that delays on processing times has for businesses and workers. The plan to reduce delays included approvals in late November and earlier this month to increase the number of staff in the processing team. Once the recruitment of permanent and temporary staff is completed, the team will of grown to 52 staff, three and a quarter times the size it was in early November.

Other actions included the temporary reassignment of staff from other areas of the department with the right skills. Maximum hours of overtime are also in place for the existing team and former processors from the wider civil service.

The spokesman added Ireland was one of few countries to keep its employment permit system fully open during Covid. It monitors demand for permits daily and will “react quickly” by increasing capacity if predicted levels are exceeded.

To work in Ireland, a non-EEA national must, unless exempted, hold an employment permit. The department administers the permit system.

The current processing time for the ‘Trusted Partners’ initiative is around four months, with the department processing applications from October 22. The scheme helps certain employers get a faster turnaround for applications and could previously take around three weeks.

Processing times for standard applications is currently around five months. Previously it could take around six weeks.