New Bill Would Make Few Changes to Topsy-Turvy Aspects of System for Immigrant Work Permits

A year ago, when Claudia Grandez interviewed for a marketing manager job at a podcast production company, she showed up with a plan.

“I did my homework,” says Grandez, on a recent evening after work, sitting inside Café Nero on O’Connell Street, her bike helmet on the table in front of her.

She listened to some of the podcasts, she says, weaving concrete new ideas for how to produce and promote them better.

Her employers said she was the only candidate who came up with a plan, said Grandez.

Since then, she has been working for the company on an immigration permission that lets people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who graduated from Irish universities live and work here without a work permit for up to two years.

But that will run out in February 2023. To stay in the role, she needed her bosses to sponsor a work permit this year.

As part of that process, she had to advertise her own job to meet the labour market needs test for general employment permits, which is designed to make sure the post is filled by Irish or EEA nationals, and only if that isn’t possible, by non-EEA candidates.

The company didn’t find a suitable Irish or EEA candidate, so Grandez applied for a work permit for the job. But the Department of Employment recently refused her application, saying the job advert fell short of its conditions.

“I thought I did everything right,” Grandez says.

Migrants like Grandez, who have already competed with Irish and EEA candidates to get jobs, and maybe have done them for a while, still have to fulfil the labour market test condition to keep them or have to leave.

The process also doesn’t require employers to show evidence that they interviewed and assessed all the applicants who applied after seeing job adverts that ran as part of the test, says Eoghan McMahon, solicitor at the law firm McGrath McGrane.

The current regime is unfair to both migrants who have already competed and got hired as the most qualified candidates, and people who send in job applications after seeing the second round of ads, he says.

“Who don’t know that these adverts are essentially fake as the jobs advertised are already promised to someone else,” says McMahon.

There is a new Employment Permits Bill moving through the Oireachtas, but it does not appear to address either of these issues.

It does, however, eliminate the requirement for job ads to appear in print, allowing them to appear online only, said a Department of Employment spokesperson. “This revised labour market needs test will be less costly and more flexible for employers.”

We’re Hiring, on Paper

Grandez wrapped up a master’s programme in marketing at University College Dublin (UCD) in 2020.

But before moving to Ireland, she’d worked marketing jobs in her country of birth, Peru, amassing seven years of experience in the industry.

“With my experience here, it would be about 10 years,” says Grandez.

Before accepting the job at the podcast company, she had asked her bosses if they’d sponsor a work permit for her once her graduate permission was about to run out.

“They said, ‘If you’re good enough, yes,’” she says.

She says her company is small, and it was its first time sponsoring a non-EEA worker.

They hired an immigration consultancy to help, and they suggested she should apply for a general work permit.

She had to advertise her job in three different places, says Grandez. One was running an ad on the Jobs Ireland website for about a month.

Then there are expensive newspaper ads, says Grandez. To keep it affordable for her company, she ran a brief one costing €400 for three days in the Irish Times, she says.

“But the great thing is that the newspaper gives you a PDF showing all the days that it was in the paper, like the entire print or whatever it is,” she said. Proof for the other types of ads is screenshots only, she says.

The refusal letter from the Department of Employment says the job adverts didn’t include all the details required by the law.

Grandez says it was disappointing to get the rejection, and it wasn’t specific enough for her to understand where she went wrong.

“The weird thing is that we had reviewed everything,” she says.

Grandez says the labour market test should be the initial recruitment process, where she was picked out of a group of about 100 candidates, so that migrants don’t have to stress about losing jobs they have already earned.

“After I got hired, when I was talking to my boss, they said there were so many people applying for the same job, but the difference was when I applied, I had seven years of experience back home,” she says.

McMahon, the solicitor, says that once an employer agrees to sponsor a work permit, they have already decided that a non-EEA worker is the best person for the job.

“I have never had an employer come to me to apply for a permit, do the 28-day advert and pull out of applying for the permit because they found someone through that,” he says.

He says the labour market test requirement is also very technical and tiny mistakes lead to rejections, like leaving out simple information from the job adverts. So appeals, he says, rarely go anywhere.

“They have to start all over, and this could set them back another 6 weeks at minimum,” McMahon says.

Grandez says she’s trying to apply for a critical skills permit this time. Albeit only “international marketing experts” with specific skill sets are on the list of jobs for which there is a shortage of Irish and EEA workers, also known as critical skills jobs.

The Bigger Picture

There is evidence that the work permits system hampers the integration of immigrants into Irish society, and also drives some asylum applications.

A 2019 study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on the labour market integration of migrants stresses the importance of easing employment pathways for non-EU workers who are already living in Ireland.

The study mentions higher barriers to the labour market for non-Irish people and also for Black migrants.

It counts over-qualification, exploitation and lack of recognition of qualification as other challenges faced by migrant workers.

For people who need work permits, it’s not possible to apply for all jobs either; there’s a list of professions ineligible for work permits. The list includes jobs like bar and kitchen staff, drivers and police officers.

Another report, published by ESRI last month, mentions the rigidness of Ireland’s employment permit system as one potential driver of asylum applications and calls for reform.

There are cases of people who have applied for asylum after a rejection on a general employment permit application.

But McMahon, the solicitor, says that although the study points to the issue and speculates that it’s a probable factor, there should be a more profound investigation for a precise conclusion.

He says just hinting at the issue without concrete evidence of how much of an influence it has on pushing up asylum applications might be exploited by some to spread a harmful stereotype of all asylum-seekers as “economic migrants”.

Employment permit holders come from various countries, including those widely accepted as unsafe, with oppressive political regimes.

But the labour market needs test isn’t helping anyone anyway, McMahon says. “[It] is a pretty useless barrier that doesn’t benefit anyone, in my opinion.”

Asking employers to show solid evidence that they couldn’t find an Irish or EEA candidate the second time around is not the best solution either, he says.

“I don’t know how feasible or desirable it would be for the Minister to interrogate an employer on the CVs received and why they aren’t suitable, but I think that goes to the design of the system,” he says.

Any ease-up on labour market restrictions for migrant workers should follow safeguards to prevent exploitation, too, he says.

“It needs to be totally reevaluated,” McMahon says.

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Shamim Malekmian: Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at [email protected]

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