By Amy Connaughton
Leigh Connaughton, General Manager of Belmont Nursing Home in Stillorgan, has written to a number of Government Ministers regarding what she deems as discriminatory practice currently going on within the employment permits section of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
Her letter was addressed to Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, and Minister for Health Simon Harris.
All nurses practicing in Ireland must be listed on the Register of Nurses and Midwives, which is maintained by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI). In addition to being on this register, non-EEA nationals must hold a valid work permit – either a Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) or a General Employment Permit (GEP) – depending on whether they are a degree or diploma holder respectively.
As per the changes announced on March 6 2019 by Minister Humphreys and Minister Flanagan, spouses and partners of CSEP holders can, with immediate effect, access the labour market without the need for an employment permit. However, spouses and partners of GEP holders are unable to access the labour market unless they obtain a valid work permit of their own.
Only an employer can apply for the work permit and a general work permit costs €1,500. This means that when hiring someone for a job an employer can choose between someone who can start working immediately, or someone who requires a work permit costing the employer €1,500 which is making it difficult for spouses and partners of GEP holders to secure employment.
There is also an extensive list of occupations for which work permits will not be granted for spouses and partners of GEP holders, such as sales assistants, receptionists, managers, physiotherapists, estate agents, waiters/waitresses, cleaners, and much more.
In addition to this, CSEP holders are also eligible to apply for immediate family reunification through the long stay, joint family visa, allowing their families to join them here in Ireland. This is very important for young professional nurses re-locating to another country. GEP holders are only eligible to apply for family reunification after 12 months of residency in Ireland and this application process typically takes a further 6-12 months.
After two years, CSEP holders are entitled to apply for stamp 4 permission which means that they can work in Ireland for five years without the need for a work permit. However, for GEP holders, their employer must reapply for a work permit every two years at a cost of €1,500.
Regarding the NMBI Connaughton said: “Applicant nurses receive a PIN regardless of whether they have a nursing degree or a nursing diploma and once they receive this PIN they are then licensed to nurse in any medical facility. All nurses are listed on the same register and the NMBI does not differentiate between them or their standards regardless of whether they qualified with a nursing degree or nursing diploma.
“If the NMBI does not differentiate between degree and diploma holders, then why does the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation? In my opinion, this practice is wrong and discriminatory, and as a result, this country is not supporting these individuals who are providing an invaluable service here in Ireland, looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
Non-EEA nurses are working side by side in various organisations around the country carrying out the same tasks and on the same pay grade but some of these nurses have certain privileges that the others have not.
Connaughton said: “A nurse here who qualified with a nursing diploma and hence holds a GEP, found that she could not apply to have her children join her in Ireland until she had been resident in Ireland for one year. If she was the holder of a CSEP, she could apply for immediate family reunification.
“She decided to do a masters, which she paid for out of her own pocket so that on completion she would be eligible to apply for the CSEP. After her masters, the nurse was still doing the same job and getting the same pay as before. This is one example of the lengths that some non-EEA nationals are going as far as.”
She continued: “All qualified nurses, registered with NMBI, should be given the same permissions and conditions to live and work in this country, and should not be discriminated against simply on the grounds that they hold a nursing diploma and not a nursing degree.
“Nurses are in high demand and in our current labour market there is a significant shortage of supply. The application for employment permits for nurses in this country requires immediate examination as this is restricting the recruitment process.
“Why would nurses come to Ireland with such discriminatory practices when they can go to so many other countries and not have these problems. I raised this with the department multiple times and just ended up being passed around from person to person and not really getting any satisfactory answers other than ‘this is current legislation’.”
Minister for Health Simon Harris responded to Connaughton’s letter saying that he understands the problem that this poses to the industry and the problem it poses for recruiting staff and that he will be giving it his personal attention.