By Aileen Gittens

Family Reunification For Employment Permit Holders

Family Reunification Employment Permit IrelandMany non-EEA nationals who wish to work in the State need to obtain an employment permit from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to allow them to do so. Once they have received an employment permit, they can apply for permission to enter and reside in the State from the Department of Justice. 

They will be permitted to travel to Ireland with their eligible family members (e.g. their spouse and children). 

This process can be relatively smooth and effective for non-visa-required, “critical skills” permit holders e.g. a US citizen who holds a critical skills employment permit to work in the State as a registered civil engineer or a physiotherapist. 

However, many other employment permit holders find themselves moving to the State and having to leave their close nuclear family members behind and perhaps unknowingly, facing an inordinate wait for those family members to be allowed join them in the State. 

Critical skills permits confer a critical advantage  

There is a difference in the family reunification entitlements for holders of “critical skills” permits and holders of “general” employment permits. 

The former category can apply to bring eligible family members to Ireland immediately, but the latter must wait one full year after living and working in Ireland before they can apply. 

If the family members of “critical skills” permit holders require a visa to enter Ireland (e.g. nationals of India or Pakistan, among many others), their entitlement, per government policy, to “immediate” family reunification is twarted by the visa application process which can take years for a positive outcome. 

General employment permits - general policy challenges 

It seems to have been intended that Non-EEA Doctors, for example, would apply for critical skills permits, and would therefore benefit from the right to apply for immediate family reunification. Doctors, Nurses, Engineers etc. are all eligible for critical skills permits, as long as they meet certain criteria, including having been offered a two-year contract to work in the State. 

Many doctors in particular, however, are forced to apply via the “general employment permit” route instead, as they are typically not given a two-year employment contract initially. As such, they can only apply for visas for their eligible family members to join them in the State after living and working in Ireland for one full year.  

Furthermore, other crucial healthcare professionals, such as healthcare assistants (working across hospitals, nursing homes etc.) are only eligible to apply for a “general employment permit”, and therefore, must also wait one full year before they can even apply for their eligible family members to join them in the State. After they apply, the lengthy visa application process commences. 

The idea of allowing “immediate” family reunification for critical skills employment permit holders and not allowing general employment permit holders to apply until one year has passed should be revisited, particularly as many general employment permit holders come from “visa-required” countries which means that lengthy delays are then faced once the visa applications are submitted. The rationale for treating general and critical skills employment permit holders differently in this way does not make sense; the salary required for a critical skills employee is higher than for a general permit employee. However, a general employment permit holder’s remuneration often remains the same in year 1 and year 2, so their capacity to ensure their family member is financially supported (the rationale espoused in the government policy setting out the criteria) is not necessarily increased after 1 year.  

Changes on the horizon 

The Employment Permits Bill 2022 is currently at Final Report Stage before Seanad Éireann, and is widely expected to be enacted during 2024. The legislation helpfully proposes to consolidate existing (convoluted) employment permits legislation and to move operational details to secondary legislation (i.e. Regulations) which will facilitate easier amendments as our labour market evolves. The legislation should bring about a series of helpful changes around new seasonal permit types, changes to how one can change employer mid-permit etc. 

However, the new legislation does not deal with family reunification entitlements, and so the problems outlined here are not expected to change. Family reunification guidelines for employment permit holders are set out in government policy, rather than legislation. 

There was really positive progress announced recently, that spouses and partners of general employment permit holders, and intra company transfer employment permit holders are now allowed to enter employment in the State without having to obtain their own employment permit; this is a long awaited change which has been introduced following extensive campaigning on this issue. However, this will only help those who are in the State – and it just might take a significant period of time to get here first. 

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