Despite the economic downturn and the unemployment rate increasing to 4.4 percent last year, the number of work permits has grown from 3,617 in 1994 to the 40,321 issued last year.
Over 40 percent of the permits granted last year involved unskilled or low-skilled workers in sectors as farming, horticulture, construction, hotels and catering.
Harney said that in future placement officers in the state’s FAS employment agency would be checking if staff are available locally before a work permit will be granted.
The new restrictions will not affect EU citizens or people from the European Economic Area nations of Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland. They do not require a permit.
Harney said the number of permits last year was “very high” considering the economic slowdown.
“Maybe people took an easy option,” she said. ” Maybe, in an environment where we took a very liberal approach, people did favor the option of an immigrant worker because sometimes they are more flexible that somebody who lives locally.
“Essentially what we are going to do is restrict the liberal approach we had adopted when the economy was growing very rapidly.”
Harney said the new cutback would not affect sectors where there are skills shortages such as nursing.
The restrictions will also not hit people on existing work permits who would be due to have them renewed.
“There is no question of not granting permits. It would only be in situations where that we believe genuinely that there is nobody locally that can do the job.”