The Employment Permits System for workers entering Ireland from outside the European Economic Area is to be reformed to better address skills shortages across the economy.

A review of Ireland's Economic Migration Policy published today aims to ensure that the system can respond rapidly when sectoral skills shortages arise.

Among its recommendations is the introduction of a Seasonal Employment Permit to facilitate short-term work visits.

Citizens from Ireland and the European Economic Area get priority for work here, but the Employment Permits System governs recruitment from elsewhere to plug skills shortages.

More than 11,000 citizens from outside the European Economic Area applied for work permits here in the first eight months of this year, which is up almost 30% on the same period in 2017.

Just over 8,000 permits were issued, an increase of 6% on last year.

The latest review aims to meet the demand for skills and workers without disrupting the labour market, and to respond quicker as sectoral skills shortages emerge.

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys has said the reforms would enable Ireland to be keep pace with evolving enterprise requirements.

However, she cautioned that almost 210,000 people remain on the Live Register, with 16.8 million unemployed across the EU.

It remains to be seen what impact Brexit will have on the demand for work permits from workers who might otherwise have gone to the UK. 

There are a number of categories qualifying for employment permits. 

Those in highly skilled jobs such as medicine, ICT, sciences, finance and business may qualify for special fast track rules, with the family joining them immediately, and with the possibility of permanent residency after two years.

There is also an "Ineligible Jobs" list, such as home care and hospitality, where evidence suggests that more than enough Irish and EEA workers are available to fill vacancies. 

Employers seeking to bring in overseas workers for other posts may have to carry out a 'Labour Market Needs Test' by advertising the post to ensure that no Irish/EEA citizen is available before a work permit will be granted.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Humphreys said a scheme piloted in the agri-food sector in May saw 800 permits issued to deal with particular shortages in meat processing plants, on dairy farms and in the horticultural sector.

Ms Humphreys said permits can with conditions to ensure no workers are exploited by insisted employers provide a €22,000 minimum wage, ensure that accommodation is available as well as access to English language skills.

She said that the permits system is demand-led and depends on the needs of enterprise and industry in Ireland, while not replacing opportunities for Irish workers.