The Republic’s already lackadaisy immigration regime was crowbarred open just that bit wider yesterday with the announcement by Minister for Enterprise Damien English to liberalise the permit scheme for non-EEA workers.
Potentially one of the most meaningful decisions for migration policy in recent years, the announcement relates to the General Employment Permit used primarily for attracting third world nationals in less skilled trades (hospitality, haulage and social work)
Ostensibly to counter shortages in the labour market, particularly around truck drivers in the lead up to Christmas, the new system removes the previous quota system in place for non-EEA workers in the haulage industry entirely.
Unsurprisingly welcomed by employers unions as well as piteously soft coverage in the neoliberal press gallery, some of the key points are as follows.
- Social Workers from non-EEA countries now qualify as ‘Critical Workers’ with a loosening of the regulations around work permits.
- Special permit schemes are established for various industries (1,000 Horticulture Workers, 500 Meat Deboners, 1500 Meat Processing operatives and 100 Dairy Farm Assistants)
- Non-EEA applicants from critical trades such as carpentry and construction will be eligible for General Employment Permits, enabling them to work in the country providing they are receiving a salary of above €27,000-€30,000 depending on their employment status and income level.
- Previously limited to 320 permits annually for HGV drivers from non-EEA nations, these limitations are to be abolished to grapple with the fast developing haulier shortage as witnessed in the UK and increasingly in Ireland. Minister English said that the majority of those 320 permits have already been issued to South Africans.
Expected to be reviewed biannually, the decision has been criticised as being too little too late to mitigate the haulier crisis as well as even adding an additional element of bureaucracy to the process of importing non-EEA workers.
Designed for jobs which cannot be filled with domestic labour, employers are able to apply for the scheme should they fail to fill a role after advertising it over four weeks. Influenced by a 2018 review on migration policy, the move aims to smooth over the labour chasms left in the economy following the initial pandemic period.
In any opposition to myopic migration reform as announced above, the onus must be put on not blaming the benighted individuals imported from the third world to placate the neoliberal GDP machine. As seen in the language school sector or even on the topic of asylum, ill thought out schemes meant to appease employers and short term economic and ideological gain end up having wider societal ramifications.
With automation on the horizon, as well as eye watering levels of structural unemployment and welfare expenditure, insourcing reasonably low skilled aspects of your economy to the third world makes little sense.
While superficially beneficial, the move by Minister English may very end up altering Irish society beyond our wildest expectations. The lessons drawn from covid ought to have been that constructing an economy around transient labour is a fool’s errand. This realisation remains lacking and will continue to do so until the Irish electorate mobilises electorally to at least return a system of semi-sanity to the migration process.