Eine Frau geht an einer Weltkarte, die aus Kinderporträts besteht, am Freitag (18.06.2010) im JuniorMuseum in Köln vorbei.

1.1.2010 | Von:
Emma Quinn

Irish Migration Policy Development

Most of the existing Irish migration policy has been developed in the last two decades.

The recent immigration increase seen in Ireland has been driven mainly by workers moving to Ireland to fill labour shortages and many of the policy developments relate to labour migration. Policy developments in relation to asylum, citizenship and general immigration are also discussed below.

Labour Migration Policy

All nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) [1] may migrate to Ireland to take up work without restriction. Managed labour migration policy refers therefore to workers from outside this area. Ruhs [2] characterises the Irish work permit system prior to 2003 as laissez-faire as it was almost entirely employer-led with little government intervention.

Work permit allocations 1998-2008Work permit allocations 1998-2008 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de (bpb)
The number of work permits issued to non-EEA nationals increased dramatically from 6.262 in 1999 to 47.551 in 2003, a more than seven-fold increase (see figure). Most of these permits were issued in low-skilled occupations in sectors such as catering, other services and agriculture. In 2000 a work visa and work authorisation programme was introduced to facilitate the recruitment of highly-skilled non-EU nationals in the areas of information and computing technologies, construction professionals, and a broad range of medical, health and social care professions.

As the number of immigrants coming to Ireland increased the government sought to exercise more control of work permit allocations. From January 2002 employers were required to prove that they could not source workers in Ireland before applying for a permit, previously the requirement was voluntary. April 2003 saw an important step towards a more interventionist labour migration policy with the passing of the Employment Permits Act 2003 which put the employment permits system on a statutory footing for the first time. The Act was principally intended to manage the access of nationals from the new EU accession states to the Irish labour market in May 2004 by making provision for the introduction of a work permit for these nationals, should the labour market experience a disturbance. At the same time that Ireland was opening up to EU workers, conditions were made more restrictive for Non-EU nationals. The government had begun to pursue a policy of sourcing all but highly-skilled and/or scarce labour from within the EEA. The effect of this policy is evident in the drop in work permits issued post-2004.

The 2004 EU enlargement marked the start of a period of unprecedented rates of immigration to Ireland. Apart from Ireland, only the UK and Sweden granted accession state nationals unrestricted access to their labour markets immediately upon EU enlargement, all other member states imposed restrictions. Nationals from the new member states have had unlimited access to the Irish labour market since May 2004. However, Irish welfare laws were changed prior to enlargement to make payments conditional on habitual residency in the state.

Nationality breakdown of Immigration Flows 1998-2008Nationality breakdown of Immigration Flows 1998-2008 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de (bpb)
Nationals from the ten new member states, most significantly from Poland, dominated these flows, comprising over 40 per cent of total immigrants from 2005 onwards (see figure left). Partly in response to the magnitude of the flow, the Irish government sought to exercise increasing control over non-EEA labour migration. In January 2007 a new employment permit system was introduced with the objective of further restricting lower-skilled work permit allocations while attempting to increase Ireland´s attractiveness to highly-skilled non-EEA workers. There are three main elements to the scheme:
  1. A type of "Green Card" for any position with an annual salary of € 60.000 or more in any sector, or for a restricted list of occupations in healthcare, information technology, financial and industry sectors, where skill shortages have been identified, with an annual salary range from € 30.000 to € 59.999.

  2. A work permit scheme for a very restricted list of occupations with an annual salary up to € 30.000, where the shortage is one of labour rather than skills. Work permits are now most usually issued in the catering, medical and nursing and other services sectors.

  3. An Intra-Company Transfer scheme for temporary trans-national management transfers.
In 2008 the immigration rate slowed in response to economic contraction but large numbers of new EU nationals continued to migrate to Ireland (about 34 000 between April 2007 and April 2008). In the context of the current economic downturn policy has emerged to further manage lower skilled labour migration. It is significant that Ireland chose to maintain a work permit requirement for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals following their accession to the EU in 2006. In addition June 2009 saw a further tightening of the work permit system. No new work permits are issued for jobs with a salary of under € 30.000. The period for advertising the job within the EEA before applying for a work permit was extended and spouses and dependents of work permit holders are no longer exempt from this labour market needs test.


The EEA comprises the EU plus Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
See Ruhs (2005).


Zuwanderung, Flucht und Asyl: Aktuelle Themen

Ein Kurzdossier legt komplexe Zusammenhänge aus den Bereichen Zuwanderung, Flucht und Asyl sowie Integration auf einfache und klare Art und Weise dar. Es bietet einen fundierten Einstieg in eine bestimmte Thematik, in dem es den Hintergrund näher beleuchtet und verschiedene Standpunkte wissenschaftlich und kritisch abwägt. Darüber hinaus enthält es Hinweise auf weiterführende Literatur und Internet-Verweise. Dies eröffnet die Möglichkeit, sich eingehender mit der Thematik zu befassen. Unsere Kurzdossiers erscheinen bis zu 6-mal jährlich.

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