Implement Skills Transfer Programmes

Posted on Friday, 22 September 2023
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Skills Transfer
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Census 2016 reports that 342,000 people in the work force were non-Irish nationals, with the four leading origins being the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Romania. Forty-two percent of all non-Irish national workers were employed in four main sectors, namely Wholesale and Retail Trade (45,812), Accommodation and Food Services (40,859), Manufacturing Industries (36,387) and Human Health and Social Work (21,779). In terms of socio-economic groupings, nearly half (47 per cent) were classified in non-manual, manual skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled occupations, compared with 39 per cent of Irish nationals. This is at variance with the high educational qualifications of immigrants, indicating that many are employed below their skill level.

There is a need to accelerate the appropriate recognition of qualifications gained in other countries, so that migrants can work in their fields of expertise. Non-EEA nationals require a work permit to take up employment in Ireland in sectors where there is a skills shortage. In 2022, 39,955 permits were issued (over double that of 2021), 3,476 were refused and a further 1,705 were withdrawn. [1]


The numbers of migrants with a third level education continued to rise in 2022. Of those immigrating to Ireland, the number has increased (from 46,2002 in 2021 to 70,300 in 2022) whilst the proportion has decreased (70 per cent in 2021 to 58.2 per cent of all immigrants in 2022). Migrants tend to be younger than the general population with just under half of both immigrants and emigrants in 2022 aged between 25 and 44. People aged over 65 continued to be the least likely to migrate. The number of emigrants with a third level education decreased slightly from 32,500 in 2021 to 30,700 in 2022. As a proportion of all emigrants, this represents 51.5 per of the total. Of those who left Ireland in 2022, 53.6 per cent were employed (a slight increase in the number, from 29,900 to 32,000).

A further 21.8 per cent were students, a slight increase from 21.5 per cent in 2021. The proportion of emigrants who are unemployed has been in decline since 2012, reflecting the decrease in unemployment generally since then. However, in 2021 the number of unemployed people emigrating increased from 3,000 in 2020 to 5,200 reflecting the impact Covid-19 health measures had on employment prospects, dropping to 4,100 in 2022. The lack of affordable housing, affordable childcare and other services is likely a contributing factor to the increase in employed emigrants from this country. If we are to retain our skilled workforce, we need to take a broader approach to retention that takes a whole of life-cycle approach.

In light of higher educational attainment levels of immigrants into Ireland, and the increasing number of Irish people returning to this country, there is a need for a skills transfer programme for returning migrants in order to ensure the skills that they have acquired whilst working abroad are recognised in Ireland. This is something that Social Justice Ireland has advocated for previously. A recent study from Eurostat found that across the EU, employed non-nationals are more likely to be over-qualified than nationals for their job. In Ireland, 41.4 per cent of workers from other EU countries were over qualified. [2] Given the investment made in the education of young graduates, it is essential that steps are taken to retain them and their expertise within Ireland, and to attract back those who have emigrated in recent years. Of course, this is coupled with the need to provide both decent work and infrastructure to support increasing numbers of immigrants who will need to be housed and whose healthcare and childcare needs must be accommodated, as set out in Social Justice Ireland’s Policy Framework for a new Social Contract outlined in Chapter 2 of Social Justice Matters.

There has been criticism of Irish immigration policy and legislation specifically due to the lack of support for the integration of immigrants and a lack of adequate recognition of the permanency of immigration. In January 2023, the ESRI published a report on the wages and working conditions of Non-Irish Nationals in Ireland.[3]  This Report found a ‘migrant wage gap’ in Ireland. Between 2011 and 2018, non-Irish nationals earned, on average, 22 per cent less per hour than Irish nationals which equates to 78 cents earned for every €1 an Irish worker earned. Of note is the smaller wage gap for those coming from West Europe, North America, Australia and Oceania, “this is partly because they have higher educational qualifications, but they still get lower rewards for education than Irish workers.”

For many migrants, immigration is not temporary. They will remain in Ireland and make it their home. In turn, Irish people are experiencing life in different cultural contexts around the world. Ireland is now a multi-racial and multi-cultural country and Government policies should promote and encourage the development of an inclusive and integrated society with respect for, and recognition of, diverse cultures.