Blog: Flexibility needed in Employment Permit scheme to address chef shortage

Wendy Lyon
Wendy Lyon

Wendy Lyon, solicitor at Dublin firm KOD Lyons, writes about the impact of strict immigration rules on Ireland’s hospitality industry.

In November 2015, hospitality industry representatives took to the media to warn that chef shortages had reached “crisis levels” and were forcing some restaurants into mid-week closures. The sector is calling for the reestablishment of CERT, the former State Tourism Training Agency. CERT offered training in various hospitality-related skills before it was abolished in 2003.

In recent years, KOD Lyons has assisted a number of experienced chefs who are unable to work legally due to their immigration status. In many cases, they arrived in Ireland as students and were lawfully employed for several years before their student visas expired. Having fallen out of the system, it is often very difficult to regularise their status so that they can work legally again.

Part of the problem is the extremely rigid approach to undocumented workers being taken by the Employment Permits Section of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI). Although the Employment Permits Act 2006 (as amended) allows for discretion to issue a permit even if the applicant is present and working unlawfully, the DJEI seems to have adopted a blanket policy of refusing any such application. One KOD Lyons client was refused a permit to continue in the chef position he had held legally for several years because he allowed his previous permission to lapse before reapplying.

The recent Employment Permit Regulations 2015 also confirmed that permits will be issued only for chefs specialising in a cuisine of a non-EEA country. The previous wording suggested that executive chefs, head chefs and sous chefs were exempt from this requirement. The chef shortage, however, is not limited to restaurants serving non-EEA cuisine.

The DJEI declares certain occupations “ineligible” for work permits based on an assumption that employers can adequately fill those positions from the existing labour market. It is increasingly clear that this assumption no longer holds true with regard to experienced and qualified chefs. The DJEI should undertake a program to encourage and enable development of the skills necessary to fill these positions, but in the immediate term, it should remove the obstacles it has placed in the way of undocumented persons who already have those skills.

  • Wendy Lyon is a solicitor in the immigration and asylum department at KOD Lyons. You can view her profile here.