Employers are calling on the Department of Enterprise to speed up the processing of work permits for non-EU workers amid a current backlog of 10,000 applications.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and an increase in demand is being blamed for the delays.

In Dublin, there are 89 staff working at the Lucan Lodge nursing home, but three more are needed.

After receiving no applications from Irish workers, last September management at the home recruited from beyond the EU. However, they still have not heard back from the department and the process has been hit by long delays.

Sheila King, Co-Director at the Lucan Lodge nursing home, said that the delay is adding pressure on existing staff.

''With the delay in permits ... we have extra pressure on our current staff because those vacancies still have to be filled and we still have to provide the best quality of care to our men and women," she said.

"So, what we are finding is that it's something we can manage in the short term but long term it'll be very very disastrous for our business because it'll mean we'll have to halt admissions and we obviously don't want to do that.''

Sheila King, Co-Director at the Lucan Lodge nursing home in Dublin

For employers to be able to apply for a critical care work permits and to hire from outside the European Economic Area, they must first advertise the job domestically for 28 days. Ms King said that based on experience, a health care assistant can be paid around €13.80 per hour.

She said that there has been "pretty much zero" interest from Irish workers, adding that it has been like that for the last number of years.

At the moment, Ms King is waiting on word back from the Department of Enterprise on three applicants.

She said that this is the longest she has ever had to wait, and it makes planning for the future tough.

"It's quite unacceptable," she said, and she wants the Government to step up its efforts to tackle the problem.

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Meanwhile Seamus Brady, founder and MD of the Castle Group factory in Galway, is also experiencing the same issue.

The company specialises in premises fit outs and project management and is aiming to double in size in the coming years. At the moment, there are 60 workers waiting for clearance there, waiting on work permits.

"It's not a good feeling when you have to turn away work because the people are not here on the ground," Mr Brady said.

He employs over 150 there at the moment, but has had limited success attracting workers from Ireland.

"The workforce we are looking for are just not available here for the new jobs coming on line," he said.

Seamus Brady

He also said that he has been hamstrung by the current delays and wants the Government to streamline the process. He has been waiting since September.

The Department of Enterprise is well aware of the problem and said that there has been a significant increase in requests for employment permits in the past year.

There were just over 27,000 applications received in 2021, representing a 69% increase on the previous year which itself is an 11-year high.

It said that the demand has resulted in a significant backlog which has increased from 1,000 in April 2021 to around 10,500 by the middle of this month.

The department said it has created an action plan to tackle the backlog which includes the recruitment of additional staff and increased overtime.

It said that it expects to see rapid improvements from the end of this month with the backlog considerably reduced by the first quarter of this year as the plan is implemented.

The department also said that processing times have been impacted because of last year's HSE cyber-attack as well as knock-on effects of the pandemic.

Figures for 2021 show that out of the over 16,000 permits granted, 5,700 went to the healthcare sector, with 4,600 to IT and communications companies.