By Pádraig Hoare
The removal of some restrictions on chefs from outside the EU working in Ireland will help ease an “urgent need” for 7,000 chefs annually, according to an industry group.
Business Minister Heather Humphreys said she had signed off on work permit changes to make it easier for restaurants and hotels to source workers from outside the EU, and non-EU countries with economic agreements like Norway.
“This means that if an employer is unsuccessful in filling a vacancy either domestically or from across the European Economic Area (EEA), it can be filled by a suitably qualified non-EEA national,” Ms Humphreys said.
Restaurants will have to advertise a job for two weeks before applying for an employment permit for eligible candidates. If there are no suitable applicants, the restaurant can apply for an employment permit for a chef from outside the EU.
Executive chefs, head chefs, and sous chefs, must have five years’ experience at that level, the department said. The number of permits is limited to two per establishment, and an overall quota is set at 610.
The Restaurant Association of Ireland said it was “delighted” with the move, just weeks after blasting the Government at its annual conference, where it claimed the industry was “not being given the tools” to address an annual shortage of 7,000 chefs.
Despite the restaurant industry benefiting from the reduced Vat rate from 13.5% to 9% in 2011, it has lobbied for more concessions, including a reduction in commercial rates, freezing the national minimum wage until 2021, and a reduction in wine excise.
The move comes as the cost of hotel stays grew sharply last month. According to CSO figures, the cost of accommodation for consumers rose 5.2% last month, and was up 4.4% in the past 12 months.
RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins said: “The hospitality industry in Ireland has been under significant strain in recent years in regard to staffing and allowing more skilled professionals to enter the industry can only encourage further growth in this sector.
“The RAI has been lobbying on this issue since 2012. There is an urgent need for 7,000 chefs per year to service our industry.”
The hotel industry also welcomed the easing of restrictions on chefs. The Irish Hotels Federation said it would help ease the serious shortage of chefs that was currently hampering the industry.
“Ireland’s tourism and hospitality industry relies heavily on the consistent delivery of a quality product.
“We need a highly skilled workforce to achieve this and the additional flexibility to recruit suitably qualified chefs from outside the EU will help to ensure that we can meet this high standard”, said IHF president Michael Lennon.
The IHF said over 60,000 people are employed in Irish hotels. The easing of the work permit situation also applies to the animation industry, which Ms Humphreys said had “emerged as a central component of Ireland’s digital and creative economy”.
The minister said that the shortages of skilled animation workers limit the industry’s potential and expansion.