by Ciaran Ahern, Associate, Employment,Pensions & Incentives team at A&L Goodbody.
As part of the Irish Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Departments of Justice and Equality and Business, Enterprise and Innovation have made a number of important announcements recently which involve exceptional changes to our usual immigration rules:
1. Any individual whose current Irish immigration permission is due to expire between 20/3/2020 to 20/5/2020 will be deemed to have their existing permission automatically renewed by the Minister for Justice for a period of 2 months.
The renewal of the permission will be on the same basis as the individual’s existing permission and the same conditions attach.
From an employer’s perspective, over the coming weeks even though an employee may not have any up to date documentation evidencing that they have a continuing right to remain in Ireland, it will be sufficient to accept evidence of that individual’s previous immigration permission as evidence of their ongoing permission to remain in the State.
For example, an individual who is living and working in Ireland on the basis of an employment permit, generally also requires a Stamp 1 in their passport and an Irish Residence Permit (IRP) to perfect their immigration permission for Ireland.
Employment permits are granted by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) and are processed via an online application process. As set out below, it should be possible for employment permits and renewals to issue as normal for the duration of the current Covid-19 crisis.
The Stamp and IRP are both granted by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), part of the Department of Justice, and are usually acquired by physically attending the INIS office. INIS has now ceased all registration appointments for reasons of public health.
In this example, if an individual’s Stamp 1 and/or IRP expires between now and 20 May 2020 the Stamp 1 and IRP will be renewed automatically for two months from the date of expiry without the need for any further action by the individual. This will happen regardless of whether or not an application to renew a linked employment permit has already been submitted and/or processed.
2. The Irish State has temporarily stopped accepting new visa applications.
- This appears to amount to a partial travel ban by the back door and means that effective from 20 March non-EEA nationals from visa-required countries such as China, India, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey and Ukraine may not enter Ireland.
There are exceptions for:
- Emergency visas (e.g. healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals);
- Immediate family members of Irish citizens, persons legally resident in the State and Persons entitled to avail of the provision of the EU Free Movement Directive.
The Department of Justice has not provided any further information on the practical implications of this visa ban particularly its effect on work permits already granted. This could potentially affect any individuals who have had work permits recently granted by the DBEI in respect of a visa required non-EEA national. If that individual has not yet made a visa application it appears that any such application made after 20 March 2020 will not be processed by INIS for the foreseeable future (unless the individual’s employment falls within one of the exceptions) irrespective of whether that individual has been granted a work permit.
This would mean that an individual in that situation would not be able to travel to Ireland to take up their role with an Irish employer until the visa ban is lifted. Generally employees are expected to start working in Ireland under an employment permit within 3 months of the permit being granted. This may simply not be possible given the visa ban and the DBEI have not yet clarified how they will handle any issues in this regard.
It is not clear how INIS is treating any visa applications that have already been submitted on foot of work permits already granted and which are awaiting processing. If the current ban applies only to “new” visa applications, it appears that any applications in the system prior to 21 March 2020 will still be processed.
Please note, this visa ban will not have any impact on non-EEA nationals from countries that are not visa required such as USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.
3. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) continues to process employment permits as normal, but with some additional delays.
It is currently taking 7 weeks for Trusted Partner applications and 14 weeks for Standard applications to be processed as medical employment permits are being prioritised.
We understand that the DBEI has contingency plans in place to allow it to continue to process and issue employment permits through any additional lock down measures that may be implemented by the government. It’s not yet clear how the DBEI’s business as usual approach will tally with INIS’s visa ban.
There are numerous issues arising out of the recent changes to work practices that may have practical implications on the employment permit and immigration regime e.g. changing the location from which an employee will carry out their work technically requires an employer to update the DBEI, but this may not be practical or desirable in current circumstances where huge numbers of employees are now (and have been required to do so by the State) temporarily working from home.
Given the relative speed with which decisions are being made by government, there is little guidance yet available from the DBEI or INIS as to how employers should deal with their ongoing compliance with the Employment Permits Acts and the Immigration Acts.
About the author
Ciarán Ahern is a senior associate on the A&L Goodbody employment team. He regularly advises employers on contentious and non-contentious employment, equality and immigration law mattes.