Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys has announced changes to the work permit scheme to address immediate shortages of low-skilled, lower wage employees in the horticulture, meat processing, and dairy industries.

The changes will enable employers to apply to bring in 800 workers from outside the European Economic Area from next Monday.

The Irish work permit system for allowing in workers from outside the European Economic area has until now been focused on filling critical skills gaps at the higher end of the labour market.

This includes high-skilled jobs and professional positions in medicine, ICT, science, finance and business.

Today's announcement from Ms Humphreys represents a significant change in that approach.

Ms Humphreys said that labour shortages at the lower end of the skills market are becoming apparent and has the potential to restrict growth if these needs are not met.

Earlier this year the minister asked her department to review the work permit system and a full report on that is due later this summer.

However, in advance of the recommendations from that report she has announced the new pilot quota-based work permit scheme for three sectors where the shortage of lower skilled and lower paid workers is now most acute.

More than 500 permits are to be provided for the horticulture sector, 250 for the meat processing sector and 50 for the dairy sector.

Employers can apply for the permits from next Monday.

The conditions of the permits are that employees to be brought in must be given access to suitable accommodation and training, including language training.

They must also be paid a minimum remuneration threshold of €22,000 per year.