Credit: Pedro Rangel / Scop.io

Why is Big Tech importing IT workers when we have plenty of Irish graduates looking for jobs?

The latest statistics from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment show that 9,526 work permits had been issued to people coming to Ireland from outside of the EU and the Accession Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) for the period from January up to the end of August.

This is slightly down on the same period for 2020 but indicates that there has been little change in the pattern due to the impact of Covid restrictions. Indeed, when the number of applications still to be processed is taken into account, the numbers of permits granted looks set to increase significantly.

The number of applications to date has increased by over a third on the same period in 2020 to over 14,000, and Minister Damian English indicated yesterday that this demand has led to a hold up in processing times. That would indicate that the overall figure for work permits will see a substantial increase on the 2020 figure of 16,419 by the end of this year.

So who is coming here to work and why? The data shows that a number of sectors continue to dominate. The two primary sectors seeking work permits are health – which includes nursing homes – and information and communications. The huge tech corporations like Amazon, Google and Facebook account for over 20% of all permits issued. Many of the hundreds of permits issued to the banking and financial sector are also in the IT field.

By far the largest number of overseas workers, 3,415, have come from India, followed by almost 2,000 in total from Pakistan, China and Brazil. A further 1,300 new arrivals have been from Africa, chiefly Sudan, South Africa. Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Certain sectors attract people from specific countries, and there is also anecdotal evidence that companies based in India and China, as well as smaller enterprises that are owned by other nationalities prefer to take on people from those countries.

Given that, as Gript reported last February, Google Ireland’s staff is around 70% overseas workers, and that youth unemployment in the state stood at 45% in July according to CSO figures, questions clearly need to be asked with regard to how closely companies applying for work permits for non EU/EEA workers are adhering to the criteria for advertising these positions abroad.

Those criteria, as outlined by the Department, include basic renumeration, the possession of the requisite skills for the position advertised in a designated sector, and that the position should have been advertised in the state. There is an list of occupations that are deemed to be ineligible but even a cursory examination of that compared to some of the companies who are granted permits one wonders how strictly this is enforced.

Is it genuinely the case that young Irish people lack the requisite skills for these positions? That would be a poor reflection on the numbers who take IT courses and the significant state resources devoted to that sector.

But might it also be the case that Irish candidates are not the first option for these global corporations who are accustomed to moving staff from country to country especially for specialist, high-wage positions?

It speaks to a discussion we rarely have in this country: what value in terms of jobs and security are these corporations offering us? Added to the low tax take and the huge demands which they place on the electricity grid, our dependency on Big Tech is perhaps something that might be re-evaluated.

There is also of course the fact that a time of a much fretted over housing crisis that a huge number of rental apartments in Dublin are being taken up by overseas tech workers. Does that indicate that a sector that dominates an economy to such extent, but actually fails to deliver in significant terms regarding domestic employment and revenue – despite all the demands it places on public resources – might not be as treasured an asset as we are led to believe?

When the issue of work permits was brought up in the Seanad yesterday Minister for State at the Department of Enterprise Damian English clearly indicated that the state continues to favour this despite the ongoing high levels of unemployment here. Indeed he hinted that the criteria for granting permits might be further liberalised.

This, as we suggested recently in a piece on population projections and housing targets, means that a combination of increasing numbers of non-Irish workers and the legalisation of bogus asylum seekers which will in turn attract new applicants, proves that all the predictions based on low to medium migration are meaningless.

If the attitude of the people currently in power – and of the main opposition party – is to roll with the currents of international corporate capital then decisions made in boardrooms in Silicon Valley or Mumbai or Shanghai are as likely to determine the shape of our society in years to come as any of their “plans” and strategies.

It is a foolish and irresponsible manner in which to run a supposed sovereign state.

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