As we look at the election results from across Europe, we can see the success of many anti-immigration parties. Whether or not this is born of frustration with economic conditions, which often fuels anti-immigrant attitudes and sentiments, it is unfortunate. In this country there is often a negative and unrealistic perception of immigration, which is ironic considering the number of Irish people who themselves live abroad.
The reality is that work permits are only given in this country where jobs have previously been advertised without suitably qualified individuals being found, and clear guidelines are laid down for this whole area. The restrictions are also based on the sectors in which permits may be granted and the skills shortages in certain areas. In 2013, 3,868 permits were issued, and the top nationalities were as follows: 1,400 to India; 583 to the United States; and 211 to the Philippines. Obviously, the US and India are no surprise, because many multinationals have operations both in this country and in India or the United States, and companies such as Google and organisations such as the HSE have many requirements for work permits based on specific skills shortages.
The spirit of the European Union is based on the free movement of goods, capital, services and people. Member states had the ability to temporarily restrict the movement of labour following enlargement. For example, despite the accession in 2007 of Romania and Bulgaria, it was 2014 before full rights to work in this State were given. Despite this, on the recent canvas, someone argued to me that this was not the case and that full rights had been given from day one. Obviously this was wrong, but, again, perceptions and reality are quite different.
The number of people in the direct provision asylum system in this country have, thankfully, decreased since the highs of the so-called Celtic tiger years prior to the citizenship referendum. Great work was being done by the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, in regard to reducing numbers, but there is still a need for more to be done in terms of processing applications more quickly and providing definite answers on residency applications. The citizenship ceremonies were another welcome change made by the then Minister in terms of recognition of what should be the pride and enthusiasm of recipients about gaining Irish citizenship.
In my own constituency of Galway West, thankfully, we have many multinational companies which provide badly needed employment and are great employers. A number of managers have contacted me in recent years regarding the importance of flexibility within the work permits system, given the delays and frustrations in terms of being able to hire individuals with the necessary skills where there is an evident skills shortage. One such manager stated there had been consideration of moving his whole company division to the Czech Republic, such were the problems in gaining work permits. Therefore, I very much welcome the initiative to provide intra-company transfer employment permits and also the spouse, civil partner and dependant employment permit to enable family members of holders of critical skills to have employment permits. It is a very important section of the Bill and one I very much welcome.
The importance of this legislation in protecting vulnerable people is highlighted by the 2012 High Court case in which an employee was not being paid the minimum wage and had his rights abused. He took the case, with the result that the judges of the High Court brought the matter to the attention of the Minister to ask that this legislation be put in place in order to change the system. It also provides for updates on the provisions for employment permits in line with the policy on economic development since 2007, based on the specific jobs and skills shortages. It provides for a system of compensation up to a minimum wage level for employees who were working illegally but who were not paid by their employers. It also addresses skills shortages, specifically within the ICT sector. It is a very important and necessary Bill, which I certainly welcome.