Ireland’s timely battle to attract talent from overseas

20 Mar 2015

The Irish Government has recently changed its rules on how non-EEA nationals can work in Ireland. But have things improved?

Late last year our attention was drawn, like many an Irish person, to Canada. More accurately, Canadian policy with regards attracting talented professionals.

You see Ireland is in direct competition with countries like Canada, the US, Israel and the UK, trying to attract sufficient software engineers, data specialists, programmers etc. to fill the growing skills gap within the labour market.

And at the turn of the year Canada restructured its rules, creating a fast track for those of a specific skillset to gain employment. Now, if you fit their criteria, you can have your VISA processed in under six months.

This got us wondering about Ireland’s situation, and whether or not we can do things quicker.

Can Ireland compete?

Well, first off Ireland does operate a system for targeting those with the right skill set to help fill a gap in our labour pool. So, areas like IT and engineering are sought after. Secondly, processing times have tumbled, fast.

Prior to the new year it could take a couple of months for someone to get accepted, after they had filled in all the forms and gotten everything right their end.

This clearly helped no one. Not the employer, who was made wait, always risking their applicant going elsewhere, not the employee, who was left in limbo, and not the state, who were essentially doing without some talented staff while bureaucracy took hold.

“They have made significant improvements to the speed in getting the visa. So hats off to them for doing that,” said Hays Recruitment’s Richard Eardley at the turn of the year, after he witnessed first hand the benefits of quick turnaround in applications.

Indeed the Department for Jobs & Innovation claim that, on average, Irish employment permits are turned around within 14-18 days.

“It can be that quick, but it’s more like 20-25 days,” explains John Howe of Brightwater Recruitment.

This speedy turnaround is a significant improvement for employers, who no longer have to go through a labour market needs test anymore. That process can take two months, which is ridicuolous.

Better for you, better for your employer

“I’ve placed five people from outside the EEA in the past six months through this method,” says Howe, who claims it’s now far more straightforward.

And it’s not just speed that seems to be working, but also incentives for those looking to enter the country. “These include,” according to a Department spokesperson, “immediate family unification, almost completely unrestricted access for their spouses/civil partners to the Irish labour market, fast-track permanent residency after two years as well as certain rule waivers for start-up companies.”

However there does seem to be an elephant in the room, and that is tying immigrants to the company they come to work for – despite the Department insisting that these are VISAs are not employment permits.

You see when coming in from outside the EEA – which, through Ireland’s involvement with the EU, prioritises those from within – you do still need to come in with a job on the table.

And, as Howe explains, you can’t just move around once you land. There are some restrictions.

“In order to benefit from this system you must have a job offer,” he says, “and spend two years with the company. If you want to leave after, say, 12 months, you must go through the whole process again. And there may be more questions asked as you left the first employment.”

Counter productive?

Is this not counter productive? The tech industry in general entertains an exceptionally fluid labour market, with people changing jobs regularly as they progress through an incredibly skilful profession.

“It’s not a big issue,” says Howe, though, who sees staff commonly staying put, establishing a relationship right at interview, before any job is even offered. “It’s not restrictive,” says Howe, “you could look at it that way but I wouldn’t really.”

And in truth, given Ireland can absorb skilled immigrants from all over Europe rather painlessly, perhaps this is a moot point. Although almost 2,000 non-EEA workers came here last year, a significant number.

Regardless, it seems things are certainly better, and it’s down to politicians responding to the needs of the labour market, which can’t be a bad thing.

“It is widely acknowledged from the European Commission, which predicts 900,000 jobs in the digital sector in EU by 2020 to the Expert Group on Future Skills needs, which predicts that there will be 45,000 additional vacancies in IT sector by 2018 in Ireland, that there is a global shortage of skills in the ICT sector,” said a Department spokesperson.

“The fact that we issued over 1800 permits in this strategically important sector in 2014 is an indicator of Ireland’s success in attracting this key skills cohort to the State.”

Waiting for a job, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt
By Gordon Hunt

Gordon Hunt joined Silicon Republic in October 2014 as a journalist. He spends most of his time avoiding conversations about music, appreciating even the least creative pun and rueing the day he panicked when meeting Paul McGrath. His favourite thing on the internet is the ‘Random Article’ link on Wikipedia.

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