The “largest ever expansion” of Ireland’s employment permits system will see quota numbers extended for key agricultural roles it was announced today (Wednesday, December 20).

The changes to the employment permits system, including an increase in the salary requirements for horticultural workers and meat processing positions, were confirmed by the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail.

Minister Neale Richmond said that “comprehensive changes” would see the salary requirement for horticultural workers and meat processor jobs increase from from €22,000, to €30,000 in January 2024 to bring them “in line with family reunification thresholds”.

According to the minister there will also be an extension to the quota numbers for dairy farm assistants, butcher/deboners, meat processing positions and horticultural workers.

The occupations, which had previously been made eligible for General Employment Permits (GEPs) and have had their quotas extended from January 2024, include:

  • 1,000 GEPs for meat processing operatives;
  • 350 GEPs for butcher/deboners;
  • 350 GEPs for dairy farm assistants;
  • 1,000 GEPs have been provided for horticultural workers.

Earlier this year Minister Richmond had been warned that the pig industry was facing a crisis because 48% of pig farmers had staffing vacancies that they could not fill.

He was also told that pig farmers had been prevented from recruiting outside Ireland because of restrictions on the work permit schemes.

Employment permits

Today the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail said that the changes introduced to the work permit system would “allow more of the staff we need most to work and live in Ireland, benefitting all of us who require these services”. 

Minister Richmond added: “GEPs will now be provided for certain craft production roles such as furniture makers and metal plate workers, and for agricultural workers in pig managers and pig farm assistants, to increase the levels of employment and skills into these niche roles.”

According to Minister Richmond because of “effective full employment” in Ireland the demand on the employments system is very high.

“Last year, 40,000 permits were issued, and demand remains high this year with over 31,000 permits issued to workers outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) who are coming to Ireland to address the real skills shortages that are impacting businesses across the country.

“The changes made today will benefit businesses and indeed our society greatly.

“Electricians, electrical engineers and contractors and skilled metal workers are now eligible for General Employment Permits, and chemical and project engineers are eligible for Critical Skills Employment Permits,” he added.

Minister Richmond said the decision to increase the salary thresholds for certain roles had come into effect because “thresholds had not changed in some time and had not kept pace with inflation or economic growth”.

“Economic migration has such an important impact on our economy and our society.

“Migrant workers bring much needed skills and experience to our workforce, and a cultural diversity that greatly benefits Irish society. To recognise this contribution and ensure we are offering good quality employment to these workers, the salary thresholds have been increased,” he added.