Restaurants Association of Ireland Chief Executive Adrian Cummins has described the work permit processing time taken by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation as “unacceptable” following the Department’s announcing that work permit processing times have increased again, to 14 weeks. This long wait time is putting small businesses under unnecessary pressure, he believes.
“It’s unacceptable that the work permit processing times are only increasing over the Summer,” he stated recently, “This is really hurting our members: small businesses who cannot afford to wait this long while already dealing with staff shortages. The Department needs to put more resources into the work permits section to alleviate the backlog and help bring the work permit processing time down.”
Adrian Cummins had earlier described the work permit regime and processing times as “a shambles” and had called for a National Skills Shortage Summit in light of failings by the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation “where employers, agencies and Departments can agree emergency actions to solve the skills shortage in Ireland”.
Since mid-June, the processing times for work permit applications increased by two weeks to 13 weeks and is now running at 14 weeks.
“The current process for work permit applications is not fit for purpose,” Adrian Cummins had stated back in early July, “Reform is needed to ensure that employers and employees don’t lose out because of failings within the work permit application centre.”
In response to queries from Drinks Industry Ireland the Department stated, “As the economy improves and we approach full employment, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has experienced a high volume of employment permit applications which has led to some delays in processing applications. The current level of demand is due to our economic success, growing labour market and reduced labour surplus.
“However, we have also implemented a number of measures to speed up the process for businesses.
“At the end of July 2019 there was an 12% increase in the amount of applications received (10,791 applications received) over the same period in 2018. At the same time there has been a 36% increase in the amount of applications processed (10,999 applications processed) compared to the same period last year.
“The Employment Permits section in DBEI is working to reduce the current waiting time of approximately 12 weeks for Standard applications, which account for 29% of permits issued.
“The Department expects further reductions in processing times for Standard applications in the coming weeks. Meanwhile the waiting time for applications from Trusted Partners, who’re regular users of the service and account for 71% of total permits issued, is approximately three weeks.
“Applicants continue to be advised to apply for the employment permit 12 weeks in advance of the expected start date so that any impact of the current extended processing timelines on recruitment timeframes is minimised.
“In order to reduce processing times, the Employment Permits section has introduced a number of operational changes, streamlined processes and implemented ICT solutions. Additional staffing resources have also been assigned to the section and a fast-track training programme has been devised. In addition, a Business Process Re-engineering Review for the Employment Permits section has been commenced and is a first step in the development of a new IT processing system which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation.”
It concluded, “All available resources are being deployed with the aim of reducing processing times. Officials in the Employment Permits section have engaged proactively with the sector meeting their representative bodies and developing a specific employer checklist document for chefs to assist employers navigate the employment permit process.”
Shortage of staff is of concern to nearly everybody in the hospitality sector today.
According to the Vintners Federation of Ireland’s Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, the shortages are felt across a range of disciplines but there is no doubt that it is most acute at chef level.
“From talking to employers in other fields it’s not an issue peculiar to the hospitality sector,” he added, “It’s one of the outcomes from having what’s termed ‘full employment’. Strange that we can have full employment when there are over 100,000 registered as unemployed!
“A speeding up of the work permit process would be an obvious advantage but you then face the dilemma of where these additional people are going to find accommodation. The solution has to be somewhat broader than just bringing in more people,” he concluded, “There’s also a major job of work to be done (and is underway) to make the sector more attractive to school leavers as a career option.
“A lot of joined up thinking required.”