A group representing the home care sector has said it is facing a recruitment crisis and has called on the Government to allow for the hiring of workers from non-EU countries as a matter of urgency.
Home and Community Care Ireland said its members are close to reaching full capacity and cannot recruit enough staff for additional demand.
Currently, home care providers are not allowed to hire workers from outside the European Economic Area.
Joseph Musgave, from Home and Community Care Ireland, said without the ability to recruit non-EEA home carers, any expansion of services will be next to impossible. He said that means vulnerable people could be left without care.
He also said a recent decision by the Department of Enterprise to allow non-EEA care assistants to work in hospitals and nursing homes, but not in private homes, is discriminatory and contradicts the Government's stated preference for home care.
HCCI also said that in comparison to congregated settings which proved to be high risk during the pandemic, out of a total of 20,000 home care clients, Covid-19 infections peaked at just below 200.
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Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Musgrave said the sector is not struggling to attract workers, but that supply does not exist in Ireland.
There are enough full time posts at a competitive wage to hire people from outside Europe, he said.
Mr Musgrave added that there are also a number of people already working in sector who want to continue working in home care, but in order for their visa to be extended they have to move to work in a nursing home or hospital.
"And that's an absolute tragedy for home care ... this is putting home care last and it is an absolute travesty. We've got to correct this," he said.
In a statement, the Department of Enterprise said that there are other factors at play, rather than a labour market shortage.
It said: "The occupation of Healthcare Assistant is now eligible for an Employment Permit in hospital and nursing home settings at a minimum remuneration level of €27,000.
"It was not recommended to extend eligibility in respect of home care as evidence suggests that other factors, such as the contracts of employment on offer and employment terms and conditions being offered by providers are a factor in the recruitment challenges faced by the sector, rather than a labour market shortage.
"The sector has also previously been advised that a more systematic and structured engagement with the Department of Social Protection needs to be demonstrated."