Opinion: the recent policy change will help Ireland to attract more highly-skilled immigrants and their families

The Irish Government made a significant policy announcement last month that will allow spouses of highly skilled immigrants to have full access to the Irish job market without needing a separate employment permit. These highly skilled non-EEA immigrants primarily work in the healthcare and technology sectors in Ireland on a Critical Skill Employment Permit visa (Stamp 1 visa). This new policy means spouses on Stamp 3 dependent visa of these highly skilled workers can now apply for a job as soon as they arrive in the country. 

Announcing the new policy change, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys tweeted that "this is about our competitiveness. To attract the best & brightest to come to work in Ireland as opposed to a competitor country, we need to offer an attractive range of benefits to both the highly-skilled job applicants and their families." 

From RTÉ Radio 1's News At One, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys on changes to the employment rules for spouses of work permit holders

Indeed, this new policy change comes at a critical time when countries like the United States and Britain are imposing strict immigration regulations. In the US, the Trump administration is currently planning to rescind the work permit of spouses of highly skilled immigrants. The rulemaking is in the final stages which will push around 100,000 spouses out of the workforce, 93% of whom are women. The Indian immigrant population in the US will be the most affected community by the spousal work restriction visa policy change since 93% of approved applications for the dependent visa were Indian nationals.

My research with Christopher J. L. Cunningham from the University of Tennessee on the highly skilled Indian immigrant population has shown that spousal work restrictions created complications in the personal lives of these immigrants which interfered with their work-life resulting in lower overall life satisfaction. The challenges faced by these spouses included financial issues, frustration, loss of respect/low confidence, boredom, social isolation, and domestic tension.

Furthermore, our study found that 70% of highly skilled Indian immigrant respondents in the US are seriously thinking about emigrating to a more visa-friendly country due to immigration restrictions. This may cause a direct loss of between $19 and $54 billion to US organisations. We highlighted that immigration restrictions could lead to brain-drain and loss of talent which would negatively affect the technology and medical sectors and the overall US economy.

Ireland is taking the right steps now to prevent future labor and skill shortages by designing immigration policies to attract highly skilled immigrants, 

The dual career situation presents a great challenge for organisations worldwide and spouse work restriction policies have shown to affect the mobility of employees and business outcomes negatively. Furthermore, the majority of employees have turned down overseas jobs due to conerns about a spouse’s employment prospects. By allowing spouses to have immediate access to the labour market, Ireland stands a very good chance of attracting these highly skilled global talents. 

According to Stamp 3 Association, a group formed by dependent spouses residing in Ireland, removal of spousal work restrictions will help spouses and families better integrate in Ireland, provide financial independence and contribute taxes to the economy. The current policy change will significantly affect the integration of immigrant women since most dependent spouses here are women. Employment opportunities will help women build new identities, enhance adjustment, family relationships, health, and wellbeing which will help them create a meaningful life in Ireland.

Furthermore, women’s access to the labor market not only advances dynamics within families, but also can improve a household’s financial conditions. Research also indicates that the economic growth of a country depends on the full usage of skills and qualification of its women. Enhancing women’s role in supporting their families and communities is vital for retaining highly skilled talent which will help in economic growth.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Kieran McQuinn from the ESRI, reports on how many immigrant workers are required if more houses to be built in Ireland

Empowering spouses of highly skilled immigrants will not only help in attracting global talents but also will help in retaining such talents in Ireland. As Humphreys remarked, "we are talking about a small group of people here – less than 1,000 spouses and partners per year – but this small change will make a big difference in terms of Ireland’s offering to both investors, and international talent." 

It is estimated that the median age in Europe will reach 38 years of age on average by 2025. This ageing population and shrinking labor force is expected to significantly affect the European labor market. Research indicates that immigration can play a vital role in counterbalancing the effects of such challenges as the total labor force is projected to decrease by 7.4% in all EU member states in the absence of immigration. By designing immigration policies to attract highly skilled immigrants, Ireland is taking the right steps now to prevent future labor and skill shortages. 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ