By Harry Keaney
Ireland without enough workers?
It’s a scenario unimaginable a decade ago. But now, such are the changes in the Emerald Isle that many people outside the country only really begin to comprehend the transformation when they actually visit the place. Nowhere is the change more pronounced than in the workplace. Indeed, so great is the skills shortage that Irish emigrants are now returning "home" in their thousands. And even among some young Irish Americans, reports of the booming Celtic Tiger economy have cultivated thoughts of moving to work, at least for a while, in the land of their ancestors.
"The skills in question, they are anything in the information technology area, also in the pharmaceutical and bio-technology area. They are the door-openers," said Paul Cronin, the New York-based vice president of Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency, the organization that has been successful in attracting foreign investment to Ireland, much of it from the U.S.
"With rapid expansion in employment, even with Ireland’s baby boom feeding into its workforce, the growth is so great as to draw in returning emigrants and skilled people with no historic connection to the country. From an employers’ viewpoint, Ireland is still, relatively speaking, a place where such skills can be found."
Indeed, so great is the skills shortage that a new category of Irish visa was announced last March.
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"This is basically for nursing, technology and high-level construction skills," said Cronin, adding that the important thing about this category is that it’s the employee who gets this visa, not the employer.
Applicants for this visa program may apply to the Irish embassy or their local Irish consulate.
However, the full details of how certain aspects of this scheme will be put into practice remain to be seen.
Of course, anyone who has had a grandparent born in Ireland may apply for an Irish passport, which gives him or her the right to establish residence in Ireland.
Cronin said that having done that, a person can work in Ireland and, subsequently, anywhere in the European economic area, commonly referred to as the EEA.
Another category of workers is those for whom an employer establishes the right to work. "It’s the equivalent of the HIB visa in the United States where you can come into the U.S. if an employer sponsors you," Cronin said. But, he pointed out, "it’s the employer’s visa. What it is a transfer of an employee from the U.S. to Ireland."
As a result of a pilot program, which commenced on April 6, 1999, non-EEA nationals who are considered to be "intra-corporate transfers" no longer require work permits to take up employment in Ireland, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a recent information release.
An intracorporate transfer is considered to be an individual who is posted for a maximum period of four years to an establishment or undertaking in Ireland that is owned by a company or group that has operations in more than one state.
Although no work permit is required for an intracorporate transfer, the home and host employer must produce "Letters of Confirmation" to satisfy the ICT requirements.
Cronin added that because of recent changes, it is "now less possible to have this person paid in any special way."
"It used to be highly attractive for an employee to work in Ireland without actually becoming fully resident and domiciled. A person is now much more likely to become part of the Irish tax system," Cronin said.
For many people thinking of returning to Ireland, skyrocketing property prices are often the greatest source of discouragement. But, said Cronin, the price of accommodation is not that expensive.
"As regards housing rental, costs are not cheap, but they are in no way as costly as purchase. You can get a good four-bedroom house in Dublin for £850 a month.
"The problem with housing is shortage of supply," Cronin said. But, he added, most of the employers are out on the ring of Dublin. "Even though house prices are at a whack, rentals are very much appropriate," he said.