Ireland lifts restrictions on Romanian & Bulgarian workers

Statement from DJEI

20th July 2012

Sometimes we miss these announcements. This came to our attention in the course of complying with the old rules for employment permits.

The background is that the treaties that govern Bulgarian and Romanian accession to the EU in 2007 provided for a 7-year transition period before nationals of those countries have full access to the labour markets of other Member States.

There has been a gradual relaxation of the rules applying in Ireland to workers from Bulgaria and Romania. Currently, certain categories of workers from these countries already have access to the Irish labour market, including self-employed, students, and those that are self-sufficient. Bulgarian and Romanian nationals already have rights to come and live in Ireland. Outside of those categories, according to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation in recent years an annual average of less than 450 work permit applications from Bulgarian and Romanian nationals have been received, of which an average of 350 were granted annually.

Under the current system, all restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian access to the Irish labour market are scheduled to expire automatically on 1stJanuary 2014, after which date Bulgarian and Romanian nationals as EU citizens will have full access to the labour markets of all 27 member states.

In December last, the EU Commission communicated to Ireland that transitional arrangements are a preparatory phase allowing Member States to prepare gradually for the full application of EU law on free movement of workers and invited Ireland to work actively towards the eventual opening of its labour market to Bulgarian and Romanian workers and regularly assess the situation of its labour market and reconsider whether it is necessary to maintain restrictions at all. The EU Commission cited the experience of previous enlargements of the EU where it was shown that migration from the Member States that newly joined the EU did not lead to disturbances of the labour markets of the receiving countries.

The Government has undertaken a review of policy in the area and an assessment of the possible impact of removing restrictions on the labour market in light of analysis and recent data. The review identified a clear pattern of work permit applications from the countries under discussion that follows closely economic circumstances and prospects of employment. From a peak in 2003 the numbers seeking to come and work in Ireland from Bulgaria and Romania has collapsed from 2007 onwards. In 2003 some 3,600 permits were sought from nationals of both countries, declining to just over 500 applications in 2011.

In addition it has also been observed, through the examination of PPSN numbers that the demand from Bulgarian and Romanian nationals has collapsed and the percentage of PPSN numbers ever activated in Ireland is low. The population of Romanians and Bulgarians living in Ireland is estimated to have fallen by approximately 3,000 between 2008 and 2011.

Arising from this review, it has become clear that the basis for the continuation of restrictions on access to the labour market for remaining categories of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals is questionable. As such, the Government has decided immediately to bring forward the transition date for access to the labour market for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.

A number of factors are noted by Government, including:

  • a review by Government which looked at studies conducted by the Commission and Forfás which concluded that subsequent to this decision the likely outlook remains for a flat or even a marginal decline in the number of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals seeking to work in Ireland;
  • Bulgarian and Romanian nationals already have considerable rights of access to the Irish labour market, in particular students, and self-sufficient/self-employed people;
  • the population of such nationals in Ireland is estimated to have dropped by approximately 3,000 over the last three years;
  • full and unrestricted access to the Irish labour market for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals will have to be provided in 17 months in any event, under the Treaties of Accession;
  • only 9 of the 27 other EU Member States currently retain restrictions of any sort on access to their labour markets by Bulgarian and Romanian nationals with Italy and the Czech Republic having removed restrictions from 1st January last;
  • legal advice received on the feasibility of continuing transitional arrangements;
  • arguments presented to the Government by the EU Commission and the Bulgarian and Romanian governments for removing restrictions; and
  • the importance of sustaining and maintaining positive relations with the EU Commission and other member states at a time of political and economic flux in the European Union.

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